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Sunday, September 14, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Dane County Board proposes funding housing co-ops to ease affordable housing crunch
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Bayrd: "In general, housing coops are more affordable, more flexible."
Bayrd: "In general, housing coops are more affordable, more flexible."

Brenda Konkel struck a nerve when she criticized local governments in last week's Isthmus for failing to act on the dismal affordable housing market.

"The affordable housing picture is so bleak right now. There are waiting lists everywhere," Konkel told the paper. "I've never seen it so bad. And what's bugging me is the elected officials aren't responding to it."

The quote bugged Dane County Supv. Carousel Andrea Bayrd, who has been working on affordable housing issues with a number of initiatives.

"We're working incredibly hard," she says. "I'm proud to be part of the county board right now."

The Board is poised to vote Thursday night on a resolution sponsored by Bayrd -- and 28 other supervisors -- that would shift $250,000 in the budget for the development of affordable housing cooperatives. A group working with Occupy Madison Inc., including Konkel, tried earlier this year to secure city funding and a site for a housing cooperative for homeless individuals but has so far been unsuccessful.

Bayrd admits that there is very little affordable housing available in Dane County. Co-ops, she says, could be part of the solution. In housing cooperatives, residents generally have their own rooms, but share common areas, kitchens and bathrooms. Many pull resources to buy food in bulk, as well. As non-profits, the coops are owned by the residents, further keeping expenses down.

"In general, housing co-ops are more affordable, more flexible," Bayrd says.

Madison now has roughly 25 housing cooperatives. The resolution would make the funding available for whatever group wants to take a stab at developing more of them. The resolution says the county's goal is "to provide affordable housing opportunities for at least 20 individuals."

"The city has an affordable housing trust fund," Bayrd says. "We're hoping that they could pair with the city and do maybe two or three" separate housing co-ops.

The money is being tapped from $500,000 that was set aside this year for the development of a single room occupancy (or SRO) housing development. That effort continues. The initial money was set aside for the development and possible acquisition of land for an SRO facility -- with the hopes that it can be built next year.

SROs are developments where tenants rent a small room that can house one or two people. Kitchens and bathrooms are usually shared among tenants. This type of housing used to be more readily available in boarding houses, which have all but vanished from most cities. Its availability is a big help for those struggling to get out of homelessness or those struggling to avoid falling into it.

"The problem with SRO housing is it's not financially lucrative, otherwise people would have built them already," Bayrd says.

Bayrd also points out that the county has taken the lead on opening a permanent day shelter for homeless people. "All the stuff that we're doing to find a permanent day shelter is huge," she says. "We're spending millions of dollars to fund a day shelter.

Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, says that while she supports the efforts that the county board is making, it still isn't enough.

"This is a constant issue with elected officials, they do a little bit here and a little bit there and think the problem is solved or they aren't getting enough credit for what they do," Konkel writes in an email. "In reality, every little bit helps, but the need is so great, the demands so great, that they are not making a noticeable difference for affordable housing. And there is no plan to address it in a large-scale fashion. There is no vision about how to solve the problems we are facing."

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