State lawmakers heard a bill on Wednesday that would give housing authorities in Wisconsin authority to build mixed-use projects blending affordable units with commercial space.
The bill, called Senate Bill 533, got a public hearing before the State Senate’s Committee on Housing, Commerce and Trade. The proposal has attracted bipartisan support since being introduced late last month by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin.
Current law directs local housing authorities to build projects serving low-income residents. The bill would give these organizations authority to build mixed-use developments that may contain commercial space, such as grocery stores or other businesses. The bill would also allow housing authorities to build projects with a mix of low- and moderate-income tenants, instead of exclusively building low-income units.
During the hearing, Darling said the proposal would give housing authorities power to build projects for tenants at a range of income levels, instead of isolating low-income residents in a development.
“(The bill) enables mixed-use housing and makes it attractive to both low-income and middle-income tenants,” Darling said. “Which I think is a really good idea because it makes it attractive for developers to develop such projects and enables people to be together.”
The legislation would also give housing authorities the ability to develop projects blending low-income housing with a variety of other uses. It would also allow such projects to serve both low- and middle-income tenants — although it would specify that housing authorities can’t build units that serve tenants making more than double the median income for a particular area. The measure would also raise the bidding threshold for construction work on housing-authority projects from $25,000 to $50,000.
An analysis of the bill from the state Department of Administration found it might increase the likelihood of low- and moderate-income tenants finding “safe, sanitary and affordable housing,” although the agency noted it could also increase competition in a given market for affordable units.
Several groups, including the city of Milwaukee and the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, have expressed support for the bill. Kuglitsch also said groups such as the Wisconsin Builders Association, the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Realtors Association have separately expressed support.
Kuglitsch said the bill would help set up a new model for building public housing projects and would allow the state to move away from the sorts of large, low-income-only developments that were common in the past.
“It’s time that we kind of learn our lessons and do something different,” he said.
Willie Hines, director of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, likewise expressed support for the bill during the hearing on Wednesday, calling the proposal a chance to “economically integrate” a particular neighborhood. Hines said the legislation would give housing authorities more control over projects they develop and tenants more opportunities to live in such buildings.
“Not only does the bill deal with brick and mortar, but it gives us the opportunity to improve (tenants’) overall economic conditions,” Hines said. Follow @natebeck9