by Samantha Haas
on Tuesday, December 19th, 2017 at 1:28pm.
Dane County's hot housing market often makes headlines, but there's another side to the real estate climate that deserves attention: the housing gap. The housing gap, as defined by the Dane County Housing Initiative (DCHI), is the difference between the amount of income people earn and the house they could afford and the number of units available at that price point.
To help educate the community and policymakers about this issue and why it matters, DCHI recently released a short video called "Minding the Gap: The Housing Crisis in Dane County." Several area residents, an employer, a workforce housing developer, and a housing expert weigh in on the topic in this 7-minute film, which is definitely worth watching here.
Although the affordable housing gap is nationwide, DCHI reported that Wisconsin has seen particularly stagnant incomes and rising housing costs and rents since 2000. Madison also has an extremely low vacancy rate, and according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 42% of households in Madison are made up of renters. In Dane County, 28,469 households spend more than one-third of their monthly income on rent and over 12,000 households (including senior citizen households) pay half of their monthly income on rent because they can't find a place to rent for less.
"Because of the housing gap, tens of thousands of our neighbors -- working, retired, and disabled residents and families -- are being forced to choose between basic necessities" such as food, health care, and transportation, the film relayed. For some, that could mean whether they fix their car to be able to get to work across town or make rent, which could end up costing them their job or housing.
Kurt Paulsen, associate professor of urban and regional planning at UW-Madison, said, "Most households are working households, and they don't earn enough to have a decent, quality place to live where they can raise their family in a safe and stable neighborhood." But he said creating stable housing for families helps strengthen neighborhoods, schools, and the economy.
Employers like Jeff Nutt, general manager of Pan-O-Gold Baking Company who is also on the Workforce Housing Committee in Sun Prairie, said that without workforce housing available (priced to meet the needs of the workforce in a given area), the employee turnover rate increases. One option is to partner with cities, businesses, and developers to create such housing.
In Middleton, for example, the JT Klein Company, Inc. developed Meadow Ridge apartments that not only provided housing with a range of affordability, but also created construction jobs in the process. "These projects really throw a wide, diverse net for a tenant base which really creates, I think, a better apartment community," company president Jacob Klein said.
So how do we fix the housing gap? According to Paulsen, there needs to be a "sustained partnership across all sectors." That means employers need to help employees find housing, cities need to spend money or help approve more apartment construction or develop affordable housing, and banks need to finance and fund these projects.
To learn more about the housing gap and Dane County Housing Initiative, click here.