The City of Fitchburg’s new “guide” for its future housing development contains several strategies for making housing in the city more affordable.
And while some of the goals might be hard to attain, the mayor and some alders said they’re important to provide better “equity” and reduce what the planner who designed it called economic and racial segregation.
The Common Council approved the Fitchburg Housing Plan Tuesday, Feb. 12, on a 6-2 vote. A product of a consultant working with city staff and a task force of some community members, its strategies included encouraging mixed housing types within neighborhoods, using city funds to upgrade or replacing existing rental housing while maintaining affordability and encouraging and possibly subsidizing more senior housing.
“I believe that we need to create neighborhoods that provide a diversity of housing stock,” said Ald. Julia Arata-Fratta (Dist. 2). “This plan is going to provide us with ideas of how we can build that workforce housing or different type of housing … to provide equity around the city.”
Affordability was a key component of many of the goals because, as consultant Jason Valerius told alders, “the growth of incomes have been lagging behind the growth in cost of housing.” That’s true countywide, he added.
He stressed that the plan is ambitious, and the goals won’t all be reached anytime soon.
“If you achieve half of this, I think you’ll be doing really well,” Valerius said. “This is intended as the roadmap.”
Ideas for helping to generate funding toward housing includes using some tax-increment financing funds, partnering with groups like Habitat for Humanity and the Dane County Housing Authority and creating an affordable housing competitive grant program.
Two alders said the idea of mixing housing in neighborhoods doesn’t reflect what the residents they’ve heard from want.
“It’s really easy to say what a textbook says things should look like,” Ald. Dan Carpenter (D-3) said. “Oftentimes, what makes sense in a textbook does not play well in reality.
“Some of what is being proposed in this study goes completely against what our constituents and residents of the city are saying.”
Dan Bahr (D-2) agreed and joined Carpenter in voting against.
Valerius told the council the “segregation of housing types” is “quite pronounced in Fitchburg,” and that creates economic and racial segregation.
“One of the ways that we (prevent problem areas) is prevent the concentration of low-income neighborhoods,” he said. “The best outcome for the city as a whole is to have that housing distributed in different areas of the city.”
Ald. Aaron Richardson (D-3), who helped work on the plan, said some of the items should be “higher priority than others.” In an election ad in the February Fitchburg Star, he specifically mentions building fewer apartments.
Bahr and Carpenter both said they preferred to focus on solving poverty by helping to raise low-income residents out of poverty. Bahr said the best way to do that is to allow for home ownership to help them create equity, and Carpenter was concerned the plan would “tie our hands” in making future policies.
“There are several suggestions for funds and programs. Whatever happened to people just making a good wage and being able to buy a house?” Carpenter said. “Taking on more initiatives, more programs, I’m not really sure if that’s what we want to do.”
Ald. Dorothy Krause (D-1) said the most important thing was to break up the concentration of poverty in the city, much of which is in the areas surrounding Verona Road north of Hwy. PD and along North Fish Hatchery Road.
“We really, really, really have to focus on helping our people to do better,” Krause said. “One way is jobs, another way is housing.
“We need this housing, we need some kind of guideline that we can keep an eye on to say this is approximately the way we want to head.”