Damakant Jayshi

Wausau’s Affordable Housing Task Force again urged the City Council to address the shortage of affordable housing units in the city and made several recommendations they hope officials will adopt.

During a presentation Tuesday, Affordable Housing Task Force member Ben Lee listed five priorities he said the committee identified during its meetings since convening in November last year.

Lee, who is also Director of Community Impact at the United Way of Marathon County, said priorities include developing affordable 2-3 bedroom housing units on available Wausau lots, building single-family homes for households with qualifying income, making direct payments to landlords or mortgage companies to reduce housing costs and providing cash subsidies to qualifying individuals and families.

The cash subsidy proposal is modeled on the federal government’s child income tax credit program. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) had expanded the program under which eligible families were paid $3,600 for each child under age 6 and $3,000 for children between 6 and 16. That plan expired in December last year.

Lee said the Task Force is not suggesting any specific duration or amount for the cash subsidy, but he said it cannot go unnoticed “how life-changing” the funds were for families who benefited from the credit.

The housing task force requested that each identified strategy should be funded through ARPA funds, which represent “once in a lifetime money” being made available to communities. The the task force aims to ensure a lasting, sustainable impact with the funds instead of a patchwork approach.

Rounding off the list of priorities is a suggestion for the City Council to advocate for a land bank in Wisconsin. Under the initiative, a city buys land as investment without having any immediate plans for development. Those plots of land will then be used to build more affordable housing projects.

The task force has been urging action on building affordable rental units in Wausau for many months.

Cities throughout the U.S. are grappling with a lack of affordable housing, with officials taking a variety of approaches. Houston, Texas has emerged as a model city in providing affordable housing to unhoused individuals with its “housing first” methodology. According to The New York Times, the city moved 25,000 people from the streets into their own homes during the past decade. Houston’s Coalition for the Homeless worked with Harris County officials, the mayor’s office and local landlords to help people living in shelters and tents to move directly into one-bedroom apartments, some for a year, others for longer. They are no longer forced to live in homeless shelters or face the threat of citations from police, a prospect faced by the unsheltered in Wausau.

After the presentation, Mayor Katie Rosenberg said the matter should be looked into by the committees.One of those committees, Finance, did discuss its scoring for an affordable housing projects on Tuesday.

Just before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Finance Committee members listened to the Affordable Housing Task Force presentation before discussing a request for ARPA funding for affordable housing improvements and other projects.

The Finance Committee periodically scores projects for ARPA funding. Among the five projects that the committee considered on Tuesday, the affordable housing proposal ranked 4th. The committee did not reject the proposal but asked for more details before deciding.

The Finance Committee did give a nod to funding for the Community Partners Campus Facility project, wastewater screening improvement project, stormwater lift station, and a homebuyer education, counseling and closing assistance project.