Wisconsin Workers Struggle to Find Affordable Housing

The state is facing a workforce housing shortage and rising costs, but some cities and towns make it difficult to build new housing near jobs.

1 minute read

February 2, 2023, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Suburban houses against colorful sunset sky in Waukesha, Wisconsin

Neighborhood in Waukesha, Wisconsin | Ben Zott / Waukesha, Wisconsin

A debate over workforce housing is brewing in Wisconsin communities as housing costs rise and workers struggle to find affordable housing near their jobs. Writing in Urban Milwaukee, Evan Casey describes the mounting crisis.

As Casey explains, “Wisconsin has a shortage of more than 123,000 rental units, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. A January study from Forward Analytics also found that Wisconsin needs to build up to 227,000 new housing units this decade in order to solve its housing needs.” Meanwhile, there are 1.37 jobs for every home in Waukesha County, the county with the highest imbalance in the state. Yet plans to promote affordable housing development are meeting with backlash in some communities, where local officials fear the changes multifamily housing could bring, with one city alder making the comment, “We don’t step down to allow the people who can’t afford to live in Brookfield to come in.”

For communities that do want to make it easier to build affordable housing, “The League of Wisconsin Municipalities partnered with several statewide groups to release a toolkit for municipalities that includes zoning reforms to help promote affordable housing.” The toolkit recommends eliminating or reducing restrictions on lot widths, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and multifamily buildings and ‘missing middle’ housing options such as duplexes.

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