Riverview Terrace. Photo: City of Wausau

By Damakant Jayshi

The shortage of single-family homes for rent in the area has long been a problem, one that has been compounded by the lack of new home construction for the past many years, members of a Wausau advisory board said on Wednesday.

The shortage has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, some members of the Wausau Affordable Housing Task Force pointed out.

Wausau Pilot & Review reported in January a sharp increase in rent in the community. In January, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Wausau increased by 40% to $830, and the average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment increased by 5% to $1,099, according to data compiled by Zumper, a rental marketplace website. The skyrocketing prices were fueled by rising demand throughout the metro area that diminished an already low supply of multi-family housing, further inundated by labor and supply shortages delaying new construction.

That has made it difficult for families, especially in lower income brackets, to find housing suitable to their needs and budget.

During a February meeting, some members called for building more housing units in Marathon County as part of a long-term solution.

On Wednesday, Juli Birkenmeier, Community Services Analyst, briefed the Task Force about the city’s housing units, the number of people who are waiting in line and what Wausau’s Community Development Authority (CDA) is doing to address the housing shortage.

According to the figures shared at the Task Force meeting on Wednesday, the CDA owns and operates 46 units of scattered site public housing. Wausau also owns and operates Riverview Terrace, a 36-unit Residential Care Apartment Complex (RCAC); Riverview Towers, which has 149 units of elderly and disabled housing; in addition to approximately 260 Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers for individuals and families.

The Housing Choice Voucher program is the federal government’s program for assisting very-low-income families, a program that generates enormous demand and a long list of applicants. City documents show that there are now roughly 550 applicants on the waiting list for the vouchers.

The CDA currently administers approximately 260 vouchers and partners with about 120 private landlords, resulting in a current average monthly housing assistance payment of $86,000, or roughly $1,032,000 annually. Under HAP, the payment is made directly to the landlord by the CDA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

When asked how the Task Force and the City plan to address the shortage, Sarah Watson, the Task Force chair told Wausau Pilot & Review, “We are still in the early fact-finding stages of the process, we plan on scheduling another meeting in the next 3-4 weeks to learn more about zoning reforms that have been made or could be made as well as more information on upcoming developments.”

Watson added that the Wednesday’s meeting helped the Task Force understand the options they would as well as current limitations.

“The Task Force is looking for creative and innovative ways to create new housing options for our residents as well as understanding the rent costs in our town,” Watson said. “I plan on reporting the progress on this task force to the (City) Council as updates come.” 

Riverview Towers, a 10-story apartment complex consisting of 147 one-bedroom and two 2-bedroom units, are available to individuals or couples who  meet the income requirements and are at least 55 years of age or are disabled. 

Additionally, the CDA owns and operates Riverview Terrace, a 36-unit Residential Care Apartment Complex (RCAC) licensed “to provide residents up to 28 hours per week of personal, supportive and nursing services.”

For a detailed list of the programs run by the CDA, click here, and go to page 4.)