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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 48.0° F  Overcast
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Housing: The mayor's bad idea
Merging the housing authorities could backfire

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's recent proposal to merge the city and county housing authorities smacks of an epiphany arising during a late-night card game. His idea to open the approximately $4 million Affordable Housing Trust to funding projects outside of Madison is equally mind blowing. I am compelled to comment on both.

Madison's Community Development Authority has long provided quality affordable housing with supportive services for the city's lowest-income residents. Yet Madison has not built a new unit of public housing in nearly 40 years.

The CDA's Long-Term Planning Committee, a body formed with the mayor's support, recently produced a report on how to revitalize and develop new public housing. As chair of the committee, I would point out that during the nearly two years we met, neither the mayor nor anyone else ever mentioned merging the two housing authorities.

In essence, Mayor Dave believes that the merger would disperse affordable housing throughout the county. He is likely wrong, something he might have figured out if he had discussed his brainstorm with the housing authorities and county politicos.

First, anyone in Dane County who holds a Section 8 voucher (that's a federal stipend that can be used to rent a private-sector apartment) will probably wind up in Madison anyway. Madison is still the hub for public transportation, jobs and supportive services.

Second, as an urban governmental unit, the city can only control what happens within its borders. Does Mayor Dave really want to make Madison, "America's most progressive city," keep new poor folks out? That might be hard given the accelerating income gap between the rich and the poor.

As for using Madison's $4.5 million Affordable Housing Trust Fund to build housing in the county, I can only ask: Don't we have compelling needs right here in the city?

Shouldn't we use that money to refurbish our aging public housing? Or could we use it to create a long-term fund to help keep the city from taxing fixed-income folks out of their homes?

Maybe the city could even use the trust fund to bid on foreclosed properties and work with partners to create an affordable stock of rental housing for very low-income people.

I have the audacity to hope that Mayor Dave will change his mind on a merger and use Madison resources to improve Madison housing.


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