The city will have a new partner in creating affordable housing and renovating older apartment properties.
Fitchburg's Common Council unanimously authorized the Dane County Housing Authority to operate within city boundaries at its Tuesday, April 28, meeting. DCHA, which was founded by the Dane County Board of Supervisors in 1972, promotes adequate and affordable housing free from discrimination, according to its website.
Mayor Aaron Richardson said allowing DCHA to operate within the city allows for distressed or run-down properties to be turned around.
“It’s a group that can come in and really help us improve the quality of our housing stock,” he said.
As part of its mission, DCHA administers the federal Housing and Urban Development Section 8 program, which was started to help people with low incomes attain housing, and the Low Income Public Housing Program that keeps rent around 30% of income.
DCHA also has resources to assist developers in acquiring tax bonds with low interest rates and grant funds to build Section 42 affordable housing units.
“When you have areas like North Fish Hatchery Road, the Allied Drive area, where you have some pretty old properties that are rental properties, and some owners that haven’t been investing very much in them, especially recently … DCHA could actually buy those properties," Richardson said. “They can go in and put a bunch of money in here so that they’re actually quality places where you’d want to live.”
The lack of affordable housing within the city has been an issue for years. More than 10 years ago, the Allied Drive Task Force raised concerns that new apartments being built in the area would be too expensive for residents to live in, and in a 2018 study, it was found that the income gap between homeowners and renters in Fitchburg was an average of $60,000 a year per household.
According to a presentation included in the council packet, the number of very low and extremely low income households in Fitchburg increased by 84% in a five-year span starting in 2010. The very low income limit is less than 30% of the median income of an area, and extremely low is considered to be 60% of that number.
Meanwhile, rental units deemed as affordable to those households only increased by 36% during that time, which leaves a gap of 1,055 affordable housing units in the city.
In the city, there are only 4.4 units of affordable housing options per 100 residents as of March 2020, making Fitchburg fourth in the county for the number of units available, according to the presentation.
Ald. Gabriella Gerhardt (Dist. 2) said she was glad to see that the partnership was moving forward. She ran for office this spring with one of her platforms allowing DCHA to operate in Fitchburg.
“I think they can do a lot of good in the city,” she said. “I’m excited for what the future could bring with them.”