Damakant Jayshi

Wausau’s Economic Development Committee on Tuesday approved a request for $7,500 to conduct an assessment for affordable housing and the ‘missing middle’ with the goal of addressing housing shortages.

The total cost to complete the Metro Wausau Housing Assessment as outlined will be about $55,500, depending on the number of municipalities participating, Wausau’s Community Development Manager Tammy Stratz said. Marathon County is contributing $30,000 and North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (NCWRPC), which recommended the assessment, will contribute $10,000 using CARES Act/technical assistance funds. 

“Housing shortages and challenges also impact the long-term goals of businesses and communities including issues with talent attraction and retention, overutilization of public infrastructure due to long-commute times, and failure to accommodate residents at various ages and life stages,” Stratz wrote in a budget request to the committee. 

Addressing the committee on Tuesday, Stratz said the assessment could provide useful information to address issues impacting many residents of the community.

“We also believe the $7,500 request is not an unreasonable amount since it equates to 13.5% of the total cost,” she said. “The population of Wausau equates to 28.5% of the population for Marathon County.”

In addition to Wausau, eight other communities, including Mosinee and Schofield, are part of the plan.

According to the proposal, NCWRPC will be completing the Metro Wausau Housing Assessment in 12 to 18 months.

Dist. 3 Alderman Tom Kilian acknowledged that time is necessary for a thorough assessment but said it would be “productive and useful” if Wausau also pursued additonal options for high volume units of affordable housing while the assessment is underway. Kilian mentioned the former dormitory at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point at Wausau campus as an option. 

Economic Development Committee Chair Tom Neal, who represents Dist. 4, said the timeline is long. He urged Stratz to keep the committee updated periodically rather than presenting findings in a “lump” at the end.

The City’s Housing Affordability Report, completed in Jan. 2021, outlines the challenges faced by the community and chief among them is the affordability and demand for public housing.

“The City of Wausau may not have adequate housing of all types and affordability levels to meet the needs of the community,” the report says. “This includes not only housing cost and size, but also location. Public housing is in very high demand, as are housing vouchers. A greater number of affordable housing units for individuals and families is needed in the community, as well as smaller denser units and mixed-use units, particularly near downtown.” 

Blighted properties, a “perception of higher taxes” in Wausau and homelessness are other challenges listed by the report.

The report also refers to the ‘missing middle’ housing.

‘Missing middle’ housing refers to alternative housing developments — duplexes, triplex, fourplex, multiplex, rowhomes, courtyard apartments — in a walkable neighborhood available to low and moderate income households.

Alderwoman Debra Ryan suggested that the matter should be discussed by the full City Council or the Committee of a Whole since other alders are interested in the matter. Ryan is not a member of the Economic Development Committee.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.