Dane County Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner works as an attorney for Legal Action of Wisconsin. Every day, she’s sees evidence of Dane County’s racial inequities, the stress felt by families who are about to be kicked out of their housing and the struggle to find apartment for those with an eviction on their record.
“There are many groups in Dane County who are essentially excluded from all but the very worst housing stock. If they can get into a place, it might be a place that’s roach infested,” she said.
“We need to recognize that we can do something to change that.”
Wegleitner has authored four amendments to the 2019 Dane County budget to “advance housing justice,” including a measure that would double the county’s affordable housing fund.
The amendments would:
Increase the Dane County Affordable Housing Development Fund from $3 million to $6 million.
The fund, set up in 2015, has “kind of kicked up over time,” Wegleitner said. This year, developers requested over $6 million from the $3 million fund.
Local financial commitment to development projects makes project applications more competitive for federal low-income housing tax credits. The credits, distributed through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, can account for 75 to 80 percent of the development cost.
“We know this fund is working to leverage a lot of other funding and close the gap for developers,” Wegleitner said. “We know this works, let’s do more of it.”
Jim O’Keefe, director of Madion’s Community Development Division, noted this measure would be helpful, “particularly as developers continue to face rising land and construction costs and reduced tax credit pricing.”
Supervisors Bill Clausius and Yogesh Chawla are cosponsors of amendment.
Increase county funds for supportive services at Rethke Terrace Apartments from a proposed $40,000 to $60,000 and dedicate $90,000 to rapid rehousing programs.
Rethke, at 715 Rethke Ave., has 60 units for formerly homeless individuals. This summer, the apartment complex saw a rise in police calls, as well as two stabbings at the property, leading critics to accuse developer Heartland Housing of inadequate support services. Wegleitner has heard these concerns, and believes the amendment “demonstrates that we’ve heard what you’re saying.”
“We are committed to making these permanent supportive housing projects succeed, and when we need to, we will put in the local dollars that are required to make sure the residents have adequate support,” she said.
Rapid Rehousing is a cost-effective program that houses people as soon as possible, providing a case manager to provide temporary support and financial assistance, she said.
The county and city have done a great job housing homeless families, but there are “hundreds languishing” on the chronically homeless individuals list, Wegleitner said. Homeless individuals and families are evaluated and ranked according to need on a community-wide priority list.
The proposed rapid rehousing programs, which could potentially house 20 homeless individuals a year, would target chronically homeless individuals who rank low enough on the list that they will likely constantly be pushed further down the line by more vulnerable individuals. It would also target veterans who don't have qualify for other veteran resources.
It’s been an official city and county goal to end veteran and chronic homelessness since 2015. As of this month, the county still has 49 homeless veterans, as well as about 83 chronically homeless individuals who will “never get into permanent supportive housing programs,” because of their lower ranking, the amendment says.
Supervisors Chawla, Richard Kilmer, Maureen McCarville, Jason Knoll, Michele Ritt and Mary Kolar are cosponsors of the amendment.
Cut $6,000 in funding for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness and redirect it to the Housing First Coalition to provide “training, technical assistance, and statewide networking and legislative advocacy.”
The Housing First Coalition seems like a better fit to partner with the county, Wegleitner said. The Coalition Against Homelessness has “not communicated very well” with the Homeless Services Consortium, Wegleitner said, and their advocacy efforts at the state level have resulted in programs focused on preparing homeless individuals for housing (such as job programs), rather than the county’s housing first priorities.
Require that projects receiving county funds for affordable housing set aside units for chronically homeless individuals and families; implement fair screening standards and tenant protections.
This no-cost amendment would would create standards so that any affordable housing development receiving county funding would have to set aside 12 percent of their units for individuals or families on the community priority list.
Wegleitner previously proposed an amendment that would have required Gorman and Co.’s “Valor on Washington” affordable housing project to reserve 12 percent of its units for homeless families, but since the requirement wasn’t included in the original Request For Proposals, was unable to do so.
The amendment would require developers to implement tenant protections like limiting late fees and penalty fees and implementing reasonable guest policies. It also includes requirements for the tenant selection process and prohibits managers from denying potential tenants based on criteria like credit score or a minimum income requirement.
“This is about making sure that we’re not funding landlords who are engaging in discriminatory screening practices and exploiting tenants that have little bargaining power,” Wegleitner said.
Supervisors Chawla and Carousel Bayrd are cosponsors of the amendment.
The rapid rehousing and Housing First Coalition amendments will appear before the Health and Human Needs Committee, scheduled to meet next Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. and be voted on Thursday, Oct. 25 at 5:30 p.m., while the amendments to increase the affordable housing fund and implement fair screening standards will heard by the Personnel and Finance Committee, scheduled to meet Monday, Oct. 22 at 5:30 p.m.