Community surveys and reports conducted by the City of Madison placed affordable housing issues at the top of the city’s agenda in their five year federal funding plan for 2020-2024. 

In order to receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the City of Madison must develop a five year Consolidated Plan outlining the city’s goals and objectives for which the funds would be utilized. The development of the plan is headed by the city’s Community Development Division of the Committee Development Block Grant Committee.

Linette Rhodes, a grant supervisor for the CDBG Committee, said the plan provides an in-depth analysis of the community’s needs. Rhodes said the research and community input received throughout 2019 reflected a “housing crisis,” leading to two of the six main goals of the Consolidated Plan to be centered on addressing affordable housing issues. 

“Dane County is one of the fastest growing counties in the whole entire state,” Rhodes said. “After the 2008 recession, we stopped producing housing, but we kept growing as a community. So our vacancy rates kind of plummeted, and rents started to increase.”

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Affordable housing is calculated by gauging how much of a household’s adjusted income is put towards housing related costs. A household that puts 30% or less of its income towards costs relating to housing is considered affordable, according to the City of Madison. A household is considered cost burdened if over 30% of their adjusted income is spent on housing. 

Pinpointed in the Consolidated Plan was the housing cost burden in Dane County, with the issue ranking as the most common housing problem. About one half of all renter households in Madison are housing cost burdened, the drafted plan stated. Additionally, about 22% of homeowners in Madison are housing cost burdened. 

 “The City of Madison’s housing needs are overwhelmingly driven by a mismatch between income and housing cost, resulting in high levels of housing cost burden,” the Consolidated Plan draft stated. 

Rhodes said the main focus in the Consolidated Plan is to develop better strategies to preserve and build affordable housing in the area, especially for low to moderate income households. Some of the main strategies include increasing housing stock to vary types of housing, updating zoning ordinances to allow for different variations of housing units and continuing to fund various housing projects throughout the city. 

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District 4 Alder Mike Verveer said affordable housing has been his “biggest frustration” in over two decades of serving on the City Council. Many of Verveer’s frustrations with the issue, he said, stem from the fact that affordable housing involves many complex levels of government and planning, making it a constant challenge in City Hall. 

“There is no one solution and none of the solutions are easy,” Verveer said. “It really takes a very comprehensive strategy, as laid out in most recent report.”

Besides the fact that affordable housing initiatives take time to develop, Rhodes said their complexity is rooted in the multifaceted nature of housing issues. She added that the research compiled for the Consolidated Plan captures how housing issues are intertwined with a host of other issues such as minimum wage, racial disparities, education and restrictive state laws.  

Rhodes said sustaining affordable housing is tied heavily to economic mobility, and is especially important in recognizing and addressing the prominent racial disparities in Madison’s housing crisis. 

“Housing isn’t the only answer,” Rhodes explained. “It’s really about building that community. So, we can build the housing, and that is great, but thinking of what other services are needed to ensure that once you access that housing, other things are going to be going well for that family.”

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The CDD’s Analysis of Impediments to Housing Choice, adopted in October 2019 and a key report in the Consolidated Plan draft, highlighted the disparity gaps in the city’s housing crisis. Rhodes said the analysis of different census data showed that while a typical white household could afford to live virtually anywhere in Madison, black households were much more restricted in where they could afford to live based on their income disparities. 

According to the CDD analysis, the average affordable rent for a typical white household in 2016 was $1,497 while for a typical black household in 2016 it was $738. The report stated that the typical black household could only afford typical rent in two areas, one in North Madison and one in South Madison.

Rhodes said the gap is growing, with the affordability of rent dropping even lower for black households since the official Analysis of Impediments report was adopted. Rhodes said to close this gap, the whole community must advocate for housing as a “human right.”

Rhodes said diversity in the style of housing units as well as the community have to be welcomed to truly combat the issue. 

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“The city can push initiatives and we can educate,” Rhodes said. “But what it really comes down to is that the neighborhood has to embrace [affordable] housing because when they’re embracing that, they’re also embracing the future tenants that are going to live there.”

Through the development of the Consolidated Plan, Rhodes said one of the biggest takeaways was that the City must break through conventional government structure and bridge the gap between departments in order to combat affordable housing issues head on.

Rhodes said the plan managed to bring multiple city divisions together to create a housing team, including the Economic Development Division, the Public Health Division and the Department of Civil Rights, among others.

Verveer said similar revelations have been important in City Council as well to tackling affordable housing issues in the future. He said the collaboration and cooperation between different levels of government, as well as community organizations and nonprofits, has grown exponentially over the years. 

“I do think that there’s a strong consensus in City Hall to devote more and more resources to the problem and explore strategies … to try to tackle this issue,” Verveer said.