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City, county groups push back against GOP bills geared toward affordable housing, property assessments
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City, county groups push back against GOP bills geared toward affordable housing, property assessments

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A handful of GOP-authored bills aimed at increasing affordable housing options across the state has received pushback from Wisconsin city, town and county organizations for seeking to impose mandates on local entities, including one bill that would give state authority over where homeless people can set up campsites.

The legislation is part of an eight-bill package unveiled last week by legislative Republicans that proponents say are geared toward cutting bureaucratic regulations, reforming outdated practices and increasing affordable housing spending in the state.

“As I talk with citizens, contractors, and business owners from around my district, I have been made aware of the extreme shortage of workforce housing,” Rep. Alex Dallman, R-Green Lake, said in a statement. “Housing availability plays a major role in having residents move into our local communities. The bills in this package will help to alleviate this shortage and will create a better environment for our local businesses, schools, and local economies to succeed.”

One of the bills, which pertains to how municipalities use a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated during the COVID-19 pandemic, may set the bill up for a veto by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has rejected previous attempts by Republicans to dictate how federal funds are spent.

The bill would require cities, villages, towns and counties to spend at least $1 million or 10% of their American Rescue Plan Act funds, whichever is less, on affordable housing infrastructure, low- or no-interest loans to build or renovate workforce housing units or to redevelop idle sites used as shopping centers, malls or commercial property into workforce housing.

The city of Madison, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association have registered in opposition to the bill, while the Wisconsin Realtors Association supports the measure.

Another bill would attach “pay for performance” requirements to grant programs administered by the state Department of Administration to reduce homelessness. Under the bill, the DOA would have to withhold between 10% and 50% of eligible grants for at least six months after awarded, with the withheld amount paid only after the recipient shows the funds helped increase permanent housing or employment for people experiencing homelessness or reduced the number of people returning to homelessness after participating in the grant-funded program.

The bill would also allow the DOA to circumvent local rules and designate a public property to be used as a “structured camping facility” that the department can assign a homeless individual or family to. Setting up a temporary residence on public property not designated for such use would be prohibited under the bill, with a violation of the law punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or as much as 30 days in jail.

“That in and of itself will not help homeless individuals gain housing,” James Bohl, a lobbyist for the city of Milwaukee, said during an Assembly Committee on Housing and Real Estate meeting Tuesday. “That type of measure will only exacerbate existing problems.”

The bill also would require Evers to allocate $300,000 in ARPA funds annually over a two-year period for grants to continuum of care organizations to hire housing navigators to help connect individuals with housing and mediate issues between landlords and tenants.

“The lack of available and affordable housing in Wisconsin is a real problem,” Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, who chairs the Assembly housing committee, said in a statement. “It affects all regions of our state, especially rural Wisconsinites.”

A 2019 study by UW-Madison urban and regional planning professor Kurt Paulsen found the number of single-family home permits in the state dropped from more than 30,000 in 2004 to fewer than 12,500 permits authorized in 2017. The report found the lack of enough workforce housing was attributed to a failure to build enough homes to keep up with population growth, increased construction costs and outdated land use regulations driving up the cost of housing.

Other bills in the package would create new limits for how assessors can calculate a property’s value, allow cities to use increased tax revenue from some properties to fund new affordable housing projects, and create a sales and use tax exemption for building materials used for workforce housing projects.

Under one bill, assessors would be prohibited from using mortgages or bank appraisals, projected rents, asking prices or price trends to determine a property’s fair market value.

“We think these are radical changes to the assessment process in the state of Wisconsin,” Curt Witynski, deputy director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities said Tuesday.

Madison City Assessor Michelle Drea added that barring assessors from using the income approach to value when creating financing appraisals “will cause turbulence in the equalization process, which can impact Moody ratings for municipalities and the state.”

“In short, this will wreak havoc statewide,” Drea said.

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