Last night, the Madison Common Council approved the zoning for a new low-income housing complex on East Washington Avenue. The project will see 245 apartment units built for families with an income between 30% and 80% of the area median income.
The Wisconsin Housing Preservation Corp, or WHPC, is commissioning the project. They specialize in low-income housing and own over 8,500 such units throughout Wisconsin.
Mike Slavish, the Chief Operating Officer of WHPC, says that the need for affordable housing in Wisconsin is what fueled this endeavor.
“Only a third of people in our state that qualify for affordable housing can actually find it,” Slavish says. “And unfortunately the other two-thirds that remain then end up spending upward as much as fifty percent of their take-home pay in rent, which clearly doesn’t leave much for other necessities like food, utilities, healthcare, transportation, childcare, etc. So it’s a crisis that we have in our state, and it’s no different across the U.S.”
Alder Erik Paulson is a member of the city’s plan commission, to which the proposal was first presented. He also laid out the challenges of finding affordable housing.
“We need to see more of that (affordable housing),” says the District 3 Alder. “Whatever we can do, we try to shake every tree we can to be able to bring more affordable housing and be able to fund some of that. But it’s a challenge. It’s really hard, it’s really rough renting out there today. The prices are really high.”
This project will require the demolition of a now-vacant Bimbo bakery location, which closed down in 2019.
Megan Walela (wuh-LAY-luh), the Development Project Manager for WHPC, presented the proposal at the Common Council meeting. She pointed out that the property is located at one of the stops of the future Bus Rapid Transit system.
“So this site is located along the BRT red line and will help promote the city’s sustainability goals,” Walela said. “So residents of this development would be able to board the BRT at the Right Fair Oaks stop.”
Colin Punt, a planner in the City of Madison’s Planning Division, says that it is critical for low-income housing to be within walking distance of public transit and other key locations, as will be the case with the new development.
“We’re really looking at affordable housing in places where people can access all the things that they need to live a successful life and not shuttling the affordable housing to out-of-the-way locations where it very well may be cheaper to build it, but it’s somewhere that you can’t get to jobs. You can’t get to school. You can’t get to groceries. It takes forever to get anywhere,” says Punt.
While the idea drew overwhelming praise from alders and public commenters alike at the Common Council meeting, concerns have been raised about the complex’s proximity to the Dane County Regional Airport, especially with the F-35 jets forthcoming. But as Mike Slavish says, WHPC took this into account.
“I believe how we addressed those concerns is we committed to providing additional sound-attenuation measures within the building, things such as thicker glass in your windows and your exterior doors, additional drywalling spray foam insulation which is a tighter type of insulation than your typical bed insulation, more brick-massing on the building to mitigate any vibration that might occur.”
Slavish says that projects like this reflect the growing population in Madison.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to provide more much-needed housing in Madison, a community that is growing considerably as we all know. And with that growth comes the need for affordable and workforce housing for those that are, in many cases, gainfully employed here in our community.”
The demolition of the current building is expected to take place in the first quarter of 2023. Construction is projected to last between 15 and 18 months.
Image courtesy: Brian Standing / WORT News