Workforce housing bills: Wisconsin Assembly passes package

Wisconsin State Capitol

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a package of bills Tuesday touted by Republicans and the state's building and real estate industries as a way to create more affordable housing for workers, reduce regulations and reform outdated practices.

A tight housing market, driven in part by a lack of inventory and decline in new construction, has resulted in rapidly rising housing prices in many areas, making it more difficult for people to purchase affordable homes. Republicans who authored the bills pitched them as a way to make Wisconsin an attractive state for workers, especially those in their 20s and 30s.

"We’re at a crisis here in Wisconsin and nationally," said Republican Rep. Rob Brooks, of Saukville, who sponsored three of the bills.

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Local governments have raised concerns about some of the measures, including one that would limit what information assessors could use when determining the value of a property for tax purposes. The Madison city assessor said the bill would result in shifting taxes paid by commercial property owners onto residential property owners, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Under the bills, affordable housing is defined as a place to live that costs a household no more than 30% of their gross annual income on rent or mortgage. The housing is intended for people with an income no greater than 120% of the area median.

One bill passed would require local governments to approve housing projects for lower income residents. Another measure would create a sales tax exemption on building and landscaping materials used to rehabilitate or build new "workforce housing."

Under another proposal passed, Wisconsin’s housing authority would be able to make interest-free, or low-interest loans available to people seeking to remodel a residential property if their income is no more than 120% of their county’s median income.

Another bill approved would require local governments with 50,000 or more people to use the lesser of either $1 million or 10% of federal stimulus money received for projects designed to improve and create affordable housing, including low- or no-interest loans to rehabilitate old housing or build new units. The money could also be used to redevelop a commercial property with at least 10,000 square feet into new housing units.

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That was approved on a 59-35 party line vote, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against. All the other bills passed either unanimously or by a voice vote. There was no debate on any of the measures.

The bills now head to the Senate. If passed there, they would have to be signed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law. Evers has not indicated whether he supports any of the measures.


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