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Saturday, November 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 35.0° F  Fog
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Making Allied unaffordable
Task force member accuses city of pricing out residents
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Bayrd calls the proposed rents 'just too high.'
Bayrd calls the proposed rents 'just too high.'

Carousel Andrea Bayrd feels duped. The Dane County supervisor, who has been serving on the Allied Area Task Force, says the city of Madison has broken its word about how much affordable housing it will build in the troubled neighborhood.

"I feel misled," fumes Bayrd. "It's just infuriating."

Bayrd says city officials, including Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, told the task force to "shoot for the sky" when making recommendations on redeveloping nine apartment buildings owned by the city on Allied Drive. The buildings, which the city bought for $4.3 million last year, will be torn down and replaced with new rental and owner-occupied units.

In March, the task force recommended that at least half of the approximately 100 new units should be offered at prices affordable to families making 30% of the Area Median Income, or $22,100 for a family of four. But last week, the city's Planning Department responded with an offer of just nine units at 30% AMI.

"We were flabbergasted," says Bayrd. "The rents are just too high. The families here now can't afford it."

The buildings currently have 80 three-bedroom units. "We asked them to at least keep 60," says Bayrd, noting that many people in Allied are so poor they've doubled up with family or friends. But the city wants only 15 three-bedroom apartments in the first phase of development.

"You have five people living in a one-bedroom unit!" exclaims Bayrd. "They really need space."

Mark Olinger, director of Madison's Planning Department, says the city can't afford to do more. Offering low-income units "requires significant subsidies," and there are no federal programs to help. The city can use a tax-credit program through the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, but Olinger says the maximum amount of tax credits a city can get through WHEDA in a single year is $750,000. Building just the nine low-cost units will take $650,000 in tax credits.

Also, the city can't use tax-increment financing to fund the new units because it has already poured $6 million into the neighborhood, paying for streets and bike path improvements and funding a private housing development at the old SuperSaver site on Verona Road. "At some point," says Olinger, "we need to recover our costs."

The city of Madison wants to build 40 rental units in the first phase of development. None of these units will be offered to families making more than 60% of AMI (about $44,220 for a family of four). The city is also exploring whether it can use Section 8 housing vouchers for the project. "It will be 100% affordable," promises Olinger.

If constructing new housing is so expensive, why doesn't the city just renovate the existing buildings?

"We thought it was important to create something that would change the dynamic in Allied," says Olinger. He notes that the neighborhood now has block-like apartment buildings and little greenspace. The city wants to build townhouses, with private entrances, yards, even parking. "We want to create a neighborhood where people want to be, rather than have to be," he says.

But Bayrd doubts the families living in Allied now will be able to afford it. "I feel sorry for the city of Madison," she says. "They spent all that money buying those properties and thinking they're going to revitalize the neighborhood. But what they're going to do is gentrify it."

Underpaid at Overture?

Four Overture Center managers will get hefty raises this year. Rudy Lienau, director of theater operations, is being bumped to $78,416, while Glenn Weihert, building facilities director, will make $71,396 - a nearly 10% raise for each of them. Jacquie Goetz, event and patron services director, will get $66,326, also a nearly 10% increase. And Robert Palmer, the ticket office manager, will get $62,010, a 9% hike. Lienau and Goetz also got huge raises in 2003 - 20% and 13% respectively.

"There was a reorganization of senior staff," says Tom Carto, Overture's president. "These four were reclassified because of a change of responsibilities."

The reorganization was done last fall by then interim director Michael Goldberg. But Carto supports the raises.

"These people deserve what they're getting paid," he says. "If you compare what they get to other arts centers around the country, most or all of these people are on the low part of the scale for what they do."

Meanwhile, backstage...

While the managers get big raises, Overture's stagehands are still fighting for the right to unionize. The city is appealing a decision by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to allow the stagehands to bargain as a unit. The stagehands make a starting wage of about $16, but get no benefits and have no worker protections or grievance procedures.

"The city can change the handshake deal we've been operating under to fit their needs," says Chris Gauthier, a stagehand and member of Local 251. "And there's not a lot we can say or do about it."

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz says the city wants to keep its "flexibility" in hiring stagehands and doesn't want them to become permanent employees. "I don't think our position is unreasonable," he says.

Gauthier says the 300 stagehands the union represents don't necessarily want to be permanent workers. "These are issues that should be worked on at the bargaining table." He notes that many people feel Overture is becoming too elitist and that "regular people" can't afford to see shows there. "Now, apparently, regular folks aren't allowed to make a living there."

Hopson takes a hike

James Hopson, retired publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal, this week began what he expects will be a 6,000-mile trek across the nation - on foot. He started Monday in Lewes, Delaware, and hopes to make it to "somewhere near the Kansas-Colorado line" by early October. Then he'll resume his journey next spring.

"The first night I pitched a tent in the woods, the second night I stayed at a little town in Maryland," Hopson was saying early Wednesday. His plan is to visit small newspapers along the way, talking to editors and publishers. But only if they are along the way.

"A lot of people have contacted me: 'Come see me, I'm only 90 miles away,'" says Hopson. "I don't think so."

Hopson, who will turn 61 later this month, is making regular posts on his travel blog, "Little Papers Big Country," at poynteronline.org.

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