Wisconsin Needs Housing, Legislators Say it Should be Easier to Build

A report from Forward Analytics, the research arm of the Wisconsin Counties Association, says the state needs to build at least 140,000 housing units by the end of the decade to keep pace with current demand. The shortage has been especially challenging for marginalized groups and low-income individuals.

State lawmakers Wednesday approved a bipartisan package of bills aimed at improving Wisconsin’s housing stock. The package includes bills to create loans for workforce and senior housing.

Besides incentivizing housing development, one of the bills would make it harder for residents to block new housing projects. It would require local governments to approve housing projects that meet existing zoning requirements, and would lay out a court process for developers who feel the rules have been changed on them mid-project.

Currently, many new projects must make it through multiple votes from local plan commissions and other municipal boards, a process that can take months or years and creates a number of opportunities for opponents to torpedo new projects.

The bill is meant to address what some call the “not in my backyard,” or NIMBY, problem, a term for those who raise objections to projects that may be beneficial to a city because they don’t want new development located in their own neighborhood.

Jerry Deschane, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said community residents throughout the state block housing “more often than anybody would care to admit.”

“Your long-range comprehensive plan says, ‘We’re going to develop this neighborhood in this way,'” Deschane said. “Your zoning says, ‘We’re going to develop this neighborhood in this way.’ Well, a developer shows up and says, ‘OK, I can build that — here’s my request for a permit.’ Then all of a sudden, the world gets turned upside down.”

State Sen. Romaine Quinn, R-Cameron, is also a realtor for Rice Lake-based Real Estate Solutions. He cosponsored the legislation and recently told Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” that it’s aimed at giving developers more certainty.

“When they develop a project, they have to know it’s going to be approved in a timely manner, because our construction season is short in northern Wisconsin,” he said. “Communities would no longer be allowed to move the ball on developers when a project is trying to come in.”