Satya Rhodes-Conway

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she is considering strategies outlined in a new report mapping displacement in the city to include in the 2020 budget.

In response to a city report highlighting gentrification in Madison and confirming many residents’ housing challenges, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is considering including solutions for keeping housing affordable and accessible in the 2020 budget.

The report analyzed how demographic changes, economic vulnerability and housing market conditions can lead to gentrification. It mapped neighborhoods that are vulnerable, experiencing or have undergone displacement. 

“They’re not super surprising if you know Madison’s neighborhoods, but I do think it focuses the mind on where we need to pay attention,” Rhodes-Conway said.

As defined in the report, gentrification is a market-driven racial and socio-economic reconfiguration of urban communities that have suffered from a history of disinvestment. Displacement occurs when households are forced to move or are prevented from moving into a neighborhood due to conditions beyond their ability to control or prevent, such as rent increases. 

Neighborhoods beginning to see gentrification include the central areas of Tenney Lapham, Emerson East, Sherman and South Madison, according to the report. Areas that are susceptible to gentrification are largely located along major transportation corridors, including the Beltline and Northport Avenue.

The Capitol Square and Atwood areas, which include Milwaukee Street and the Darbo-Worthington area, have already gentrified, according to the report.

Staff who authored the report listed 20 strategies for equitable development and to reduce and mitigate displacement. The mayor said she wants to consider the new report with other studies the city has conducted on housing and take a comprehensive approach.

“That will be the real answer for me, that we’re laying out all the options on the table and starting to think about what is most impactful,” Rhodes-Conway said.

She said her budget will reflect some of the strategies, but declined to give specifics. Rhodes-Conway will introduce her executive capital budget Sept. 3 and operating budget Oct. 1.

Before Rhodes-Conway was elected, she asked planning staff to research displacement and equitable development while in her role as the chair of the Oscar Mayer Strategic Assessment Committee. In its report, the committee ultimately asked for an evaluation of how housing prices are affecting displacement and gentrification within the city.

Now as mayor, she has challenged her staff to take a long view when considering infrastructure improvements, permitting or land use subsidization. For example, Rhodes-Conway wants the city to understand how new projects will affect property values and how that could lead to displacement.

“How do we think upstream enough about the potential impacts on displacement and what do we do to prepare and to make sure that when we’re making improvements that we’re making improvements for the people who live there,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Displacement not only affects housing but businesses, which Rhodes-Conway said is often overlooked.

“Small businesses are part of the fabric of a community and when they get displaced, that is a hit to the community,” Rhodes-Conway said.

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The report recommends adjusting zoning standards, creating a housing levy, enacting developer exactions, implementing community benefits agreements and impact reports and retaining expiring-subsidy units.

Rhodes-Conway is interested in looking at zoning standards to allow for greater flexibility in affordable housing development. She said retaining affordable housing units is the top priority.

“It is a thing that should be first on any city’s list that we are starting to look at but need, I think, to take more seriously,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Another set of strategies outlined in the report are pre-empted by state law. These include inclusionary zoning, rent control, density bonuses and eviction protection laws.

Strategies that the city is already working on include the affordable housing fund, land banking and tax increment financing. Others include housing cooperatives, impact fee waivers, accessory dwelling units, property tax assistance, homeownership programs and commercial stabilization programs.

“It’s not just that we need to be doing new things, it’s that we need to be using the tools that we are already using more effectively,” Rhodes-Conway said.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.