Damakant Jayshi

With the number of affordable housing units in Marathon County much lower than the need, some members of the Wausau Affordable Housing Regional Task Force on Wednesday suggested building more housing.

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Member Ben Lee, who briefed the Affordable Housing Task Force Wednesday about the housing situation in Wausau and Marathon County, said community advocates are having a difficult time finding housing for new refugees who have arrived in Wausau as part of a new resettlement program.

“We already have a low inventory of affordable housing,” Lee, who is with the United Way of Marathon County, said. “If you want affordable housing, you have to build it.”

According to Lee’s presentation, 29% of Marathon County and 48% of Wausau residents are struggling to meet ends meet.

“This means they are above the federal poverty guidelines, but do not make enough money to afford basic needs,” he said. Nearly half of the residents in Marathon County spend more than 30% of their total income on housing, a recommended federal threshold that many economists say is outdated. Although various organizations, including churches, are trying to shelter those in need, the supply is not adequate, he added.

People with lower incomes are especially unable to find housing, Lee said, adding the problem is worse for people with criminal convictions. The pandemic also exacerbated the problem, and some landlords are reluctant to rent out their units.

Another member who represents housing consumers on the Affordable Housing Task Force, Sandra Kelch, spoke openly about her physically disabled son, and suggested expanding the housing inventory for those with physical disabilities.

Members and attendees agreed that more needs to be done to address the shortage, but finding ways to prompt new affordable development is one communities are grappling with nationwide.