Wisconsin bills promote conversions of vacant offices, big boxes into affordable housing

The text discusses a proposed plan to fund programs through Wisconsin's current budget surplus money.

Wisconsin bills promote conversions of vacant offices, big boxes into affordable housing

Developers who want to replace or convert empty big-box or office buildings with new housing can receive a no-interest loan from the state of up to one million dollars under a plan to encourage more affordable homes throughout the state.

This is just one of the housing bills that two Republican legislators released on Tuesday. The proposals were backed by several real estate groups.

Three programs are proposed to offer housing loans for rental and sale that is more affordable than the current private sector offers.

Jim Villa, CEO, NAIOP-Wisconsin, said that quality housing for Wisconsin's workforce is essential to the state's economic growth. We look forward to working together with the Legislature to pass these sensible proposals that will help Wisconsin move forward.

The dollar amount has not been determined, but supporters have said that the programs will be funded by Wisconsin's budget surplus. The program will create funds that will recoup their money when the loans are repaid, and then lend out the dollars again to new developments.

Brad Boycks, executive director of the Wisconsin Builders Association, said that any funding we receive will be greater than what we currently have.

Romaine Quinn, a Wisconsin senator (R-Cameron) who wrote the bills in collaboration with Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville.

The package of proposals also includes a proposal that would limit residents' challenges against local rezonings to allow for new housing and make it easier for project developers to get approvals.

The proposed loans with no interest must allow new apartments to be built that are affordable to households earning up the median income in the region where they will be built. Housing for sale must be affordable to people earning up 140% of median income.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority will oversee the loan fund and award them to projects in a competitive manner.

Developers who want to convert commercial buildings that are vacant into housing can apply for one of two programs. The maximum amount of the loan would be 20% of the project costs, up to a maximum $1 million.

Tom Larson is the executive vice president of the Wisconsin Realtors Association. He said, 'There are more commercial offices available and that the loan program's intent is to create seed money for redevelopment.

A second program proposed would provide loans for the construction of new roads, sewers, or other infrastructure to support new housing. This program would award up to 20 percent of the total cost of development for a project. This could be an important new source of funding for subdivisions and garden-style apartment complexes.

Boycks stated that private funding could not be sufficient to fund single-family housing developments.

Boycks stated that he supported the entire package. The infrastructure loan is something in which we are particularly interested.

Developers would compete for the loans offered through each program. To qualify, the project must be located in a locality that has made changes to its practices with a goal to reduce housing costs.

This could include removing parking requirements or reducing inspections fees. It could also mean expediting approvals and allowing higher-density construction projects. For years, local builder associations have encouraged these types of regulatory change.

Larson stated that he wanted to reduce the costs of new developments, as well as help with financing. It is not too prescriptive. It allows municipalities the freedom to implement any kind of regulatory reform that they desire.