City of Whitewater Needs To Get Out of Denial With Regard to Housing

My question to the city of Whitewater bureaucrats and politicians: Do you want to be healed?

Wednesday, February 9th is a special city council meeting, focused on the new housing report. This report is a nice reminder that nothing is going to change in Whitewater in the near future. 

I do not like being the “glass half-empty” guy, but this report is not worth the paper on which it would be printed. 

The full report is here:

I do recognize that housing in Whitewater sucks. Whitewater is known for it’s low income housing; however my hypothesis is that leadership is horribly short sited and in denial with regard to housing in Whitewater.

So let us dive into this report. 

I have seen this ~$36k number decried in emails forwarded to me by city council leaders. So let us analyze this number. 

Median household income in Wisconsin is ~$62k. (https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/median-household-income-by-state)

Median household income in Walworth County is ~63.5k (https://www.deptofnumbers.com/income/wisconsin/walworth-county/)

So why does Whitewater have such a low number?  I know it is obvious to most, and passively discussed in the report….  The student population…

So comparing median houseshold income other similar-sized and ratio college towns (https://dnr.wi.gov/Aid/documents/EIF/Forms/wisconsinMunicipalityMHIsSFY2021projects.pdf):

Platteville:  $41,027

La Crosse:  $42,243

So this situation is not unique.

So how do you properly account for students?

Millions of dollars of borrowed money (student loans) are infused into our local economy. How is this accounted?

Money that our young adults are irresponsibly borrowing, and thinking that they may not ever have to pay back…. but I digress…..

I would certainly have requested for an addendum to to remove students from these numbers and see the difference. I speculate that with the high income earners from the university we would blow up the median income for the state.

This is not a horrible high level analysis of the market and problems. Inflation regarding houses is high across the country. A nice home I bought in Whitewater in 2011 has literally doubled in value. That is kind of ridiculous.

A portion of the report that I strongly disagree. If you build it, they will come (really?):

The free market works. This above does not represent free market. Somehow implying that quantity of houses drives population growth is odd. It is not a “root cause”. We will get to root cause later.  Unfor

Unfortunate that employment is just barely a mention. It is ultimately root cause. Companies like Milwaukee Tool are expanding at a rapid pace. I would think Whitewater would be a great location for expansion.

Let’s look at recommendations and action plan from the report:

Allow smaller-lot single-family housing options by right in residential zoning districts. The existing ordinance provides options between 8,000 – 10,000 square foot minimum lot sizes for single-family development. Either by modifying the existing zoning districts or establishing a new district, the city could further reduce these requirements to a minimum lot size of between 4,000 – 6,000 sf. It also provides flexibility for developers and the potential for new starter or down-sizing options for residents.  

Create and adopt new zoning districts or amend existing zoning districts to allow mixed-use development by right or by conditional use. Allowing mixed-use development with a residential component within a zoning district could eliminate the need for a Planned Development (PD) in many instances where a developer pursues a mixed-use project. This could expedite the time and costs associated with mixed-use development.

Utilize tax incremental financing (TIF) to help supplement some of the cost of new affordable housing in the community. Utilize the special provision in tax increment financing law that allows the city to keep a tax increment financing district open for an extra year to support affordable housing and improve housing stock anywhere within the city. This approach has been utilized in Milwaukee, Madison, Appleton, La Crosse, Oregon, and other Wisconsin communities. In 2021, the city created an Affordable Housing Fund and, in the future, this should be leveraged to support affordable housing.

Develop new and update existing Neighborhood Plans. The City of Whitewater has several existing Neighborhood Plans dating back to the early 2000’s. The market has dramatically changed in that time, and reevaluating and updating those plans may offer opportunities not previously considered. These plans should focus on encouraging diverse types of housing in the same neighborhood to provide developers with the ability to sell lots and units quicker, hitting multiple price points. It also helps address the need for diversifying the city’s housing supply.  

Work with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (UW-W) to annually review data for enrollment and off-campus living percentages. Continue to work with UW-W on future projections or planning related to changes in policies, campus planning, and trends in these figures.

Permanently establish a Whitewater Housing Committee. This could be done through partnering with the City’s Community Development Authority, the Jefferson County Housing Authority, Walworth County Housing Authority, and other government entities, in addition to private sector partners. The development and establishment of a Housing Committee helps provide leadership on the topic and can drive initiatives on housing within the community. 

Set goals for the future that clearly define the number of housing units that need to be added to the community by a given year (i.e. 2030). This is often done through an adopted policy by the City Council. Many communities throughout the state have started setting ambitious and clearly defined targets for needed housing units, which has helped set the stage for construction of new units. 

Encourage developers to leverage existing economic development tools and incentives. Explore Opportunity Zones, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Historic Preservation Tax Credits, and other state and county programs directly related to housing and redevelopment. Developers should be aware of funding sources that can have a sizeable impact on their bottom lines.

Allow In-Family Suites by-right in residential zoning districts. This allows for the existing residential capacity of the city to be increased on the footprint of existing residential lots. In-Family Suites, or Granny Flats, are an opportunity for a family to accommodate an older adult such as a grandparent within the existing house. They are typically additions or remodeling to the existing home that provides a separate entryway, kitchenette, and bathroom with shared walls and access to the remainder of the home. This is a great opportunity to accommodate affordable housing for residents and/or their families in well-established neighborhoods outside of the student housing areas.

Proactively work with landowners and pursue developer recruitment. There are several developable greenfield areas either within the city’s existing municipal boundary or adjacent to it where future residential development is planned. City staff and other local groups can take an increasingly proactive approach to working with the landowners in these areas to inform them of the City’s housing situation and connect them to possible developers. Consistent communication with these individuals, in addition to targeted developer recruitment efforts helps facilitate connections between the two groups that could lead to actionable steps being taken toward development of new residential units in the city.

Purchase land for new affordable residential development. Over the past decade, both Jefferson and Walworth counties have had very few developers and home builders working in the area. This is a result of multiple factors, including the Great Recession causing many to go out of business, the state’s largest developers focusing on metropolitan areas where land values are higher, and local home builders that remain in the area focusing on luxury single-family homes because the return on investment is much higher. This has led to very few new housing units and subdivisions being constructed in Whitewater since 2008. As a result, it may be necessary for the public sector to step in to jump start residential development again. This can be accomplished through the city or other government entities purchasing developable land, making site improvements, connecting the area to infrastructure, and selling the individual new residential lots or the whole new subdivision. However, with this approach there is inherent risk due to unpredictable market fluctuations that could occur at any given time, but it is one alternative to waiting for private developers to immerge. 

Leverage upcoming COVID-19 stimulus funding to prepare infrastructure for future residential development. Over the past year, substantial federal government stimulus packages aimed at providing funds to state, regional, county, and local governments have been passed, and more are likely to pass in the coming years. Like the stimulus money that followed the Great Recession in 20092010, government entities that have prepared, pre-identified, and shovel-ready projects will be able to seek those funds most effectively. If the city takes a proactive approach in identifying possible infrastructure projects, there will be opportunities over the next year to seek funds for them. These projects could be new roads or bridges, needed stormwater infrastructure, utility upgrades, expanded capacity or extensions, and more. By leveraging and capitalizing on the upcoming stimulus funding, the city can complete needed infrastructure projects that help facilitate and accelerate redevelopment, infill, or new residential development.

Take a proactive approach to evaluating existing infrastructure. In order to accommodate additional housing units, the City must understand its existing infrastructure constraints and opportunities. In doing so, Whitewater can develop a plan to accommodate future development, instead of reacting to new development as it comes.

Educate first time home buyers and residents of the opportunities available. This can be done by producing educational materials or holding periodic outreach and educational events that provide guidance and increase awareness of publicly available programs. These materials or events can be designed to aid homeowners and home buyers.

From the City Report on Housing

Action Plan (from the city housing report):

This report identifies housing issues and opportunities in the City of Whitewater. It articulates a need for additional housing units to serve the future population, and highlights the types and price points of housing needed. The city is not on track to meet those needs, but steps can be taken to address the matter and the city’s housing challenges.

Figure 1.8 Action Plan

TaskTiming
Annually monitor UW-W enrollment and policy changes related to housing Ongoing
Adopt zoning changes: x Small-lot, single-family districts x Mixed-use districts  x In-Family Suites land uses permitted by right2022
Produce summary incentive materials and provide them to prospective developers2022
Set goals for future housing units needed2022
Update Neighborhood Plans2022
Develop new Neighborhood Plans2022
Create a developer recruitment strategy and continuously update/monitor community housing data (Housing Affordability and Fee Report)2022
Establish a plan for how the Affordable Housing Fund will be utilized, including a revolving loan fund component for home renovation2022
Permanently establish a Housing Committee to lead the implementation of this action plan2022
Leverage available stimulus money and pursue future grant opportunities2022
Explore opportunities for the city to purchase and/or develop its own residential subdivision based on Neighborhood Plans2023
Conduct a utility capacity analysis and evaluate infrastructure needed to serve new neighborhoods2023
Develop first-time home buyer education events2023

This is all garbage and noise.

There is currently no real plan for expanding business development in Whitewater.  I once asked city admin C. Clapper how they measure business and economic growth in Whitewater, and his answer was that he had no metric. That is sad. 

I am a numbers guy. My day job is a lead engineer for a Fortune 500 company (was Fortune 50 before it went woke). I am a six sigma black belt and run numbers like this all the time. Numbers mean nothing without the correct analysis. 

If I presented this report to my VPs and such, they would send me back to the drawing board in shame.

I ask whether or not the City of Whitewater truly wants to be healed (Bethesda reference).  I have my doubts.  It is so easy to point to this phony ~$36k number and throw your hands in the air.  

And the solution is so simple…. Expand economic growth.  So simple. 

Progressive leaders do not seem to have concern over economic growth. In April’s election, do you honestly think Jim Allen – a guy who has never created a job in his entire career – is better suited to handle such issues, as opposed to Chuck Mills – a lifelong entrepreneur, having created many jobs, and probably the hardest working guy in Whitewater. Mills will get my vote.

I want to take a moment and share a discussion between Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson. Peterson discusses how economic development drives environment. Same stuff…..  you just have to want to be healed.  Check it out here. Not to mention, it is a great interview.

Well, let me know your thoughts. Do you think I am crazy, thinking that jobs will ultimately create houses…. and that the city is in denial over this?

If you would like to follow this blog on Whitewater, please subscribe.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s