Despite the longstanding problem of scarcity in affordable housing in the city of Madison, recent data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey indicated that Madison ranks second in the state for selling homes worth more than $1 million.
Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, connects this with the high cost of lakefront properties.
“Lakefront property is expensive,” Resnick said. “The million dollar homes really occur around many of our lakefront properties and it is attributed to the strong employment district we have for doctors as well as university professors that can afford million dollar homes.”
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, added incomes in Madison are generally higher than the national average if college students are excluded from the equation. He said many of the higher end, million dollar homes can be found on the lakefront areas in the Maple Bluff and Shorewood Hills neighborhoods.
Still, Verveer said Madison has a divide between those who live in higher end housing and those who struggle to find affordable housing.
“I don’t want to be dramatic and say ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ but there’s definitely a big divide between people that are extremely well off at houses that are worth millions of dollars and then those that are living on the street and on the complete opposite end of the spectrum,” Verveer said.
Verveer said while Madison has one of the strongest economies in the state, it still has an alarmingly large deficit in affordable housing. He said there seems to be an increase in individuals living in poverty in the area, many of whom are more recent arrivals to Madison from other communities.
Verveer said one of the issues that arises from this lack of affordable housing is the low vacancy rate for apartments in Madison, including all geographic areas of the city and even other areas in Dane County. He said the vacancy rate in Madison usually hovers around two percent.
The vacancy rate is low for different ends of the housing spectrum, including housing typically associated with college students or higher end apartments downtown, according to Verveer.
Verveer said the federal government has cut back on the amount of funding dedicated to affordable housing. These federal policies have led to tremendous cuts on the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, subsequently leading to cuts in various affordable housing programs in Madison, he said.
Despite the challenges, Verveer said Madison continues to try different approaches to tackle the issue of affordable housing availability. A recent initiative is the use of city government money on single room occupancy housing. He described single room occupancy as a type of transitional housing intended to serve the formerly homeless to assist them with getting on their feet.
Single room occupancy housing involves one small room for an individual and occupants share bathroom and kitchen facilities, Verveer said. He said rent varies, and many individuals who live in single room occupancy housing receive some government assistance to supplement their income.
Verveer said an example of this type of housing is through the nonprofit organization Porchlight, which has a large apartment building between University Avenue and West Johnson.