The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority is trying to prevent its hiring and contracting standards from disappearing when control of state government changes hands.
A bill that received public hearings Monday and Tuesday requires the agency ensure minority- and women-owned companies work on projects that receive tax credits and that people living near the developments get construction jobs. The bill also encourages developers applying for the tax credits to recruit and train inexperienced protégés to get hands-on experience.
“The generation and the accumulation of wealth is a good thing in our society. There’s nothing wrong with that,” said Antonio Riley, WHEDA executive director. “But we want to make sure that people are getting equal access to wealth.”
The authority receives tax credits from the federal government and awards the credits to developers to raise money for affordable-housing projects.
Without a mentorship program such as WHEDA’s, it is difficult for newcomers to the development industry to even figure out where to start, said Dustin Bowie, who is working as a development assistant to Commonwealth Development Partners LLC, Fond du Lac. Bowie said that after he received a college bachelor’s degree, he did not have contacts in the industry and did not know where to begin.
“How do I break into the real estate program?” he said. “I don’t have $2 million, and I’m not real experienced.”
Bowie in 2008 started his training at Commonwealth, a developer that focuses on projects that use WHEDA credits. He visited Madison on Tuesday to testify in favor of the bill, which passed the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Housing on Tuesday morning. The Wisconsin Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform and Housing was to vote on the bill Tuesday afternoon.
The bill applies to 15 Wisconsin counties, it orders WHEDA to ensure 25 percent of construction money on tax credit projects goes to minority- and women-owned contractors. The authority in 2005 began requiring contractors meet the 25 percent goal, and, since then, only one project has fallen short, Riley said.
The authority already requires the three programs in the bill, Riley said, but writing them into state law will make the programs permanent and remove the risk they will be removed by future gubernatorial administrations, he said. He said the challenge now is getting it through the Legislature before the session ends at the end of the week.
“WHEDA has been thinking for a while about putting this in state statutes,” Riley said, “and the last part of it we’ve been working on is the jobs component.”