Following two heated Dane County budget cycles, a few housing services long provided by the Tenant Resource Center will switch over to the Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, leaving the TRC less certain about its future funding.
Starting Jan. 1, 2016, the CAC will take over publishing a housing vacancy list for the county and will staff the Housing Help Desk at the Dane County Job Center.
For users of the service, the main change will be expanded hours — while the TRC previously staffed the desk from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., CAC will run it from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The same phone number — (608) 242-7406 — will still work.
“We’ve really been preparing quite a bit to make sure there is a smooth transition with no bumps,” said Kristina Dux, program and services director for CAC.
For the TRC, the change is more significant, involving a loss of $95,000 in its budget and raising concerns for executive director Brenda Konkel over how to continue providing its other services.
The TRC offers housing counseling and community outreach, housing mediation in and out of court and has a University of Wisconsin-Madison campus office for students.
Konkel said the TRC will still be able to serve people in the city of Madison, UW-Madison students and homeless people outside the city of Madison. But she is concerned the center will no longer be able to serve someone from Fitchburg who loses their security deposit or someone from Sun Prairie whose landlord won’t turn the heat on.
Additionally, state legislation is being considered that would again change elements of tenant-landlord law, a factor that would require the TRC to update all of its materials and training.
“Every time they changed the law, nobody pays us to track what’s going on and then update all of our materials,” Konkel said.
Even if a measure doesn't pass, she said, it takes a lot of work to just figure out what the bill says and track it through committees.
“We barely survived the last three law changes with the funding we had,” Konkel said.
Before finding out about the possible legislation, Konkel said she thought the center could deal with the changes with a few negotiated staff cuts and raising $20,000 in private funds. She said that would have allowed TRC to continue to provide good services to the city of Madison and other services the center provides. The hope was with some fundraising, services to people outside of Madison could return.
“Now, if we have to turn our attention to updating all of our materials, I don’t see that happening,” Konkel said. “We don’t have a plan right now.”
The funding changes follow two years of contentious budget processes. In 2014, Dane County Board supervisors suggested pulling all of TRC’s funding after Konkel clashed with supervisors over transparency and social media posts. Instead of pulling funding, the Department of Human Services decided to issue a request for proposals in 2015, essentially opening the services to bidders. The RFP combined the housing help desk and housing vacancy list with other services the CAC already provided and the CAC won that contract.
During this year's budget process, TRC staff and members of the public testified against cutting TRC's funding. Konkel also appealed to the Madison City Council to provide more funding for the organization. Neither of those efforts succeeded.
CAC executive director Fred Schnook said his organization will continue to coordinate with the TRC, referring people there for services if needed.