Wisconsin groups offer new ‘cookbook’ to spur affordable housing development

By Jeff Bollier/Green Bay Press-Gazette, WisconsinWatch.org

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This piece was made for the NEW News Laba local news collaboration in northeast Wisconsin.

Microsoft is providing financial support to Greater Green Bay Community Foundation and Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region for this initiative.

Wisconsin has a new recipe for increasing affordable housing development thanks to a “cookbook” released last month.

Enabling Better Places: A User’s Guide to Neighborhood Affordabilityis a 45-page report that outlines zoning and building code changes communities can consider to make it easier and cheaper to build affordable housing for low-income families. The report has the support of government and industry associations representing Wisconsin builders, realtors, commercial developers, retirees, municipalities and planners.

“Whether it’s Big Falls or Milwaukee, there’s a housing crisis all over Wisconsin. In most cases, it was a lack of…housing that people with good local jobs could afford,” said Jerry Deschane, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities. “This is a very Wisconsin-specific cookbook on how local governments can make affordable labor and housing more possible.”

The report recommends that communities consider these changes to reduce the cost and increase the density of new housing developments:

  • Reduce large lot sizes to increase density and make standards applicable to old and new neighborhoods.
  • House setbacks of 20 to 30 feet can be reduced to increase density.
  • Allow multi-unit housing in areas formerly or currently zoned for single family homes to allow for the construction of multi-unit housing.
  • Permit secondary suites in all single-family neighborhoods.
  • Allow multi-family construction in commercial districts.
  • Shift the focus of parking from the number of spaces to the parking location.
  • Provide developers with a clear and predictable approval process.
  • Prioritize municipal review of applications for labor or affordable housing.

Communities that implement some or all of these changes can help increase housing availability, enable more people to age in place, and provide more housing options like duplexes, cottage yards, and multi-family projects. smaller to meet market demands, the report says.

One of the big concerns of the report’s sponsors is whether residents will turn their noses up at the recommendations without first trying them. Developers and builders often encounter public opposition to building apartments near single-family neighborhoods, for example, based on stereotypes that affordable housing leads to more crime or overburdens schools.

“We need to get rid of some of the old stereotypes that renting equals trouble or crime,” said Jim Flaherty, director of communications for AARP-Wisconsin. “We need to get around these stereotypes and think together.”

The report recommends strategies to humanize renters, such as asking people about their first lifestyle after leaving their parents’ house or where their children currently live. It also encourages communities to ensure tenants, not just building owners, are aware of proposed changes and developments.

“Tenants understand the issues of lack of rental housing and the high prices associated with it. These are the voices needed to counter the opposition,” the report said.

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The report was produced with support from the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Wisconsin Realtors Association, Wisconsin Builders Association, AARP-Wisconsin, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), NAIOP Wisconsin and the American Planning Association–Wisconsin. The group hired the Congress for the New Urbanism research and produce the report.

Ivy Vann of the New Urbanism Congress helped research and write the report for state associations. Congress for New Urbanism staff met with local officials in Eau Claire, Horicon, Ripon, Waukesha and Waunakee about barriers to building more affordable housing and used those communities as the basis for recommendations.

Vann said the report’s chapter on improving public engagement to gain resident support may be its most valuable part. She said communities that can change residents’ reactions from “OMG a big apartment building” to “I wish my bartender didn’t have to drive home half an hour after his shift” can be transformational.

the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Wisconsin has approximately 188,000 very low-income households; it’s a family of four earning less than $26,000 a year. The state needs 120,000 more rental units for this population of bus drivers, service workers, childcare workers and others who earn less than 50% of the median income of the state. State.

Signs advertise available apartments at Broadway Lofts in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Indiana-based TWG Development opened the affordable housing project in 2021. It features 93 apartments and 14 three-bedroom townhouses. The rent is between $500 and $1,200. (Karl Ebert/Green Bay Press-Gazette)

Affordable housing crisis affects every corner of the state regardless of politics or population, said Brad Boycks, executive director of the Wisconsin Builders Association, and these changes can make a “measurable difference.”

“Red or blue; urban, suburban and rural districts, it’s a topic that comes up,” Boycks said.

The report comes after the Builders Group reported new home starts fell 5% last year to 11,711 compared to 12,291 in 2020. Supply chain delays and material shortages have had “a significant impact on the number of homes the industry can build,” Boycks said.


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The report’s recommendations are not the solution to all of the state’s housing problems, but it can help communities improve at their own pace. Deschane said the League of Municipalities plans to spend the next six months reviewing the report and reviewing its findings with members of local government.

Jim Villa, CEO of the Wisconsin Chapter of the NAIOP, said every agency or organization has a role to play in helping to see these recommendations adopted statewide. He said groups like NAIOP, which represents commercial developers, can serve as cheerleaders for the effort, noting that each partner in this project has a different role but the same goal.

“It’s important for us to support the league in this task,” Villa said.

Reducing regulatory hurdles and streamlining review processes will have an added benefit for local businesses, Vann said. Complicated applications and development reviews, for example, can deter small, local homebuilders from taking on an infill project.

“One aspect of the guide’s phased approach is that you’re empowering residents to invest in their own communities,” Vann said, noting that it will take every builder and developer to meet the need for housing. affordable statewide.

Wisconsin is far from alone in dealing with its affordable housing crisis, but Vann said the new report puts it ahead of others.

“You’ve recognized that you have a problem and you’re taking steps to fix it,” Vann said. “It puts you ahead of a lot of places that are like ‘no, not us'” when faced with the scale of the need for affordable housing.

Contact Jeff Bollier at (920) 431-8387 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JeffBollier.

This article first appeared on WisconsinWatch.org and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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