City Hears Housing Concerns
standing-room audience attends hearing; council to consider action next
The Eau Claire City Council will likely act in the near future to address growing concerns about the lack of affordable housing in the city. But first, the council wanted to listen to what members of the community themselves had to say about the issue.
More than 25 speakers addressed the City Council and a standing-room-only audience of residents during a listening session at the council’s Sept. 24 meeting. Typically, the council only holds public hearings when it already has proposed ordinances pending. In this case, however, officials decided to listen first – and they got an earful.
“Housing is, in my opinion, beyond crisis,” Eau Claire resident Staci Roth, one of the first speakers, told the council. “I see people who are what’s referred to as ‘couch surfing.’ They can’t afford a roof over their heads. The homeless shelters have wait lists. I have been on the (U.S. Housing and Urban Development) wait list for almost three years.” Roth worries that her husband, who has suffered three heart attacks, won’t live long enough to see a new home. “We’re hanging on right now by a thread,” she added. “We are one disaster ourselves away from being in the streets sleeping in a snowbank. … The place we’re in right now is questionable to say the least, (but) we have nowhere else to go.”
Public focus on affordable housing has been spurred by rising housing costs – average rent in Eau Claire is approaching $800 a month, nearly double what it was 10 years ago – as well as by a recently released report by the United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley estimating the number of local families who struggle to pay the bills. The ALICE report – “ALICE” stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – “represents the households with income above the Federal Poverty Level but below the basic cost of living,” the United Way reported. In Eau Claire County, 42 percent of households – or about 17,000 total households – fell below the ALICE threshold, which is about $19,000 for a single adult and $62,700 for a family of four with two young children. A full 14 percent of households in the county were below the federal poverty line – which is $24,300 for a family of four.
Andrew Werthmann, the Eau Claire City Council’s acting president, said he expects the council to convene a work session in the near future to discuss what the city has been doing to ensure affordable housing, and what new things it could do. Possibilities include examining city zoning laws and development incentives, further encouraging urban infill, and potentially considering an ordinance allowing the construction of “tiny homes” similar to what was enacted recently in Chippewa Falls. “We don’t have the entire role, but we definitely have a role in this,” Werthmann added.