Housing bills advance with mixed support in committee vote

By: - October 20, 2021 5:25 am

House under construction (Josh Olalde | Unsplash)

Eight bills offered to deal with shortages of affordable housing in Wisconsin advanced from an Assembly committee Tuesday on votes that mostly split along party lines.

Two of the measures, however, received unanimous support in the 10-member Assembly Housing and Real Estate Committee: AB-607, creating a new housing rehabilitation loan program in the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), and AB-609, which would authorize local housing investment fund programs.

One of the committee’s three Democrats, Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez (D-Milwaukee),  joined the Republican majority on a third bill, AB-610, which passed 8-2. That would change how local communities assess the property values of certain residential properties, especially rentals.

That legislation was proposed as a way to encourage the development of more affordable rental properties. But it was also widely criticized by municipal officials for throwing aside a variety of long-standing assessment principles.

On three other bills, Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha), the committee’s vice-chair, split from fellow Republicans to vote with all the Democrats in opposition. They all passed the committee 6-4.

The first, AB-604, attaches a “pay for performance” provision to state grants to address homelessness that are distributed by the state Department of Administration (DOA). It also includes a plan for DOA to take control of public lands around the state and turn them into designated camping grounds for homeless people, while making it a crime to camp in other locations not officially set aside for camping. 

The other two bills were AB-605, which would require local governments to set aside part of their federal pandemic relief money for new housing developments, and AB-606, which would create a sales tax exemption for materials used for workforce housing developments or housing rehabilitation projects.

The remaining bills passed on 7-3 party line votes: AB-603, which would create a category of “shovel-ready” residential development sites certified by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., and AB-608 which would require local governments to speed up approval for workforce housing projects and require them to permit multifamily housing.

When he unveiled the legislative package Oct. 7, Rep. Rob Summerfield (R-Bloomer), the committee chair, said the bills “will help address Wisconsin’s housing shortage and make the state an attractive place to live and work again.”

All eight pieces of legislation have been put on the calendar for the Assembly floor session on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Rep. Jodi Emerson (D-Eau Claire), who was among the most outspoken critics of the bills on the committee, said Tuesday that while at least some may have been well-intended, they were rushed and suffered accordingly. She cited the bill creating campgrounds for homeless people as an example, noting that there had been “no homeless people, no agencies” who work with them, at the bill’s public hearing.

“There’s always a problem when we do things at breakneck speed, when we can’t hear the voices of particularly impacted people,” Emerson said.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter 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.