A housing study of the region will be completed over the next several months. Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is spearheading this study for the southwest Wisconsin region. My office will be assisting with much of the work here in Grant County. Why is the study needed? Housing is critical to our economy. Workforce shortage is the number one challenge I am hearing from businesses. Lack of housing for that workforce is also a challenge. It is hoped that with a completed housing study, we can demonstrate to our housing developers and construction businesses that there is a need for housing and specifically, what type of housing is needed.
The “type” of housing needed is much more complex than just the simple need of housing. Much of the talk coming from the State and Federal government is about “worker housing”, or housing targeted to those 18 – 60 year-olds who comprise the majority of the workforce. What about elderly or retirement housing? There is certainly a big need for this, too. Our demographics show an aging population with a high percentage increase in retirement age individuals over the next decade or so. We will need housing to address this change in our population.
What is affordable housing? Now, that is a question with a variety of answers. I am hearing comments that would range from $140,000 to $220,000. I think the intent would be the housing desired by the mean range of those in the workforce. There is demand for higher income housing, as well as lower income housing, but the real focus would seem to be on housing that would fall in between.
My hope is that the study will show a need for housing for those in retirement. This type of housing would include apartments or townhouses, which would be attractive to a population who want independent living within our area. It would also help create worker housing by allowing those living in larger, multi-bedroom homes to downsize to smaller, more convenient housing. Those larger, multi-bedroom homes would become great starter or second-homes for families to purchase and live in. Therefore, by creating retirements housing, we would add more housing for the working class. We are simply moving people from one housing type to another but we are addressing a problem. We would still need worker housing, but the building of retirement age housing would be part of the solution.
The recent recession leaned heavily toward the creation of the housing shortage. We essentially had near zero new housing construction in the county during the recession. Residents’ incomes were flat and there was a lot on anxiety that kept people from building new houses, kept developers from creating sub-divisions, and kept retirees from building or selling and relocating because the values of their current homes softened. Who would buy their house in a recession? The housing contractor industry in the region also took a hit then, too. Who would build the houses now? The interest in housing developers and contractors to build “spec houses” has certainly declined.
The hope is that that study will demonstrate the need for new housing.
We are also seeing new incentive programs for housing now. A new workforce housing TIF, tax increment financing, is in the works and hopefully will be approved later this year. This will help municipalities with the development of new housing.
In the meantime, my office will be working with the Regional Planning Commission on surveying and gathering information for the study. But – I am not waiting for the study. I am working to develop programs and funding to foster or incentivize new housing development in the county. Housing is needed and we need to develop the plan to support it.