Assembly passes seven housing bills, puts homeless camps on pause

By: - October 27, 2021 6:38 am
row of town homes

Marcus Lenk | Unsplash

After a divided committee vote a week ago, the Wisconsin Assembly passed seven bills Tuesday that Republicans had proposed to address Wisconsin’s affordable housing shortage.

Six of the bills passed on voice votes with little or no audible dissent. A seventh passed with only Republican support. There was no debate on any of them. All seven now go to the state Senate.

AB-605, which would require local governments to set aside part of their federal pandemic relief money for new housing developments, was the only roll-call vote, passing 59-35. Democrats in the Legislature have consistently opposed GOP legislation directing how the governor’s office spends the state’s share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. With Tuesday’s vote they also declined to support telling local governments how to spend their ARPA money.

The bills that advanced on voice votes were:

  • AB-603, creating a category of “shovel-ready” residential development sites certified by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which already certifies “shovel-ready” industrial sites;
  • AB-606, creating a sales tax exemption for materials used for workforce housing developments or housing rehabilitation projects;
  • AB-607, creating a new housing rehabilitation loan program in the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA);
  • AB-608, requiring local governments to speed up approval for workforce housing projects and requiring them to permit multifamily housing in their zoning codes;
  • AB-609, authorizing local housing investment fund programs;
  • AB-610, changing how local communities assess property values, primarily for rental properties.

Assembly leaders bypassed what may have been the most controversial piece of legislation during Tuesday’s floor session — AB-604, which would authorize the state Department of Administration (DOA) to establish designated camping grounds for homeless people on public lands around the state. It has not been rescheduled.

That bill also would require the department, when it distributes state grants to address homelessness, to hold back portions of those grants and require recipient organizations to demonstrate that they had reduced homelessness before receiving the rest of the money.

The legislation has already been amended to prevent the DOA from forcing local governments to accept the department’s designations for homeless campgrounds. Another proposed amendment would slightly soften a provision that could allow homeless people to be charged with a misdemeanor for camping in places not designated for camping — although it would not eliminate the prospect of a fine of up to $500 or up to 30 days in jail.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.