A new program meant to help Wisconsinites buy, fix and remain in their homes was announced Wednesday. The effort is an outgrowth of State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski’s homeownership task force and will aim to connect community groups, local officials and other housing experts to assist people.
Wisconsin’s homeownership rate has declined steadily since 2004 — dropping with national trends during the 2008 financial crisis but worsening in recent years. The state has one of the lowest Black homeownership rates in the country.
The program, called Take Root Wisconsin, is modeled after a Milwaukee-based program with the same name. The new network of community action agencies, local treasurers, Realtors, lenders and others will help people make down payments, avoid foreclosures and understand the property tax system.
“For families across Wisconsin, owning a home is a key part of the American Dream and unlocking financial security,” Godlewski said in a statement. “But for too many, particularly young families and communities of color, owning a home remains out of reach and with the recent economic downturn, many are at risk of foreclosure.”
The report released Wednesday by the task force outlines the challenges of homeownership in Wisconsin and highlights what the task force has done since it was started in March 2020. Aside from just recommending policy changes, the task force helped build a pilot program in La Crosse that helped people avoid property tax foreclosure during the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were able to think through tools with foreclosure, providing money for down payments or actually giving the resources to help people improve their credit so they can buy a home,” Godlewski said at a news conference Wednesday.
But aside from the financial barriers to home ownership in Wisconsin, the state faces a shortage on the supply side. Godlewski says helping potential first time home buyers improve their credit and avoid foreclosure will improve homeownership rates, but improved credit can’t build more houses in a person’s community.
Across the state, in rural and urban areas, a lack of affordable housing creates policy challenges. In rural areas, established employers struggle to attract workers and in urban areas rents skyrocket as supply dwindles. The task force report mentions the state’s “inadequate affordable housing supply” and “aging housing stock,” but does not recommend any policy solutions for how its new network of housing advocates and local officials can work with developers, plan commissions and community members to build more housing.
Take Root Wisconsin is set to be up and running as a non-governmental group, using grant funds and membership fees. Soon it will be hiring a staff to connect the various groups and assist home buyers.