UW-Extension program to focus on affordable housing

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Community Development Educator, Amy Greil

In two weeks, Kenosha is playing host to a nationally recognized affordable housing developer and founder of Buffalove Development, based in Buffalo, N.Y.

Here is what you need to know about the issues to be discussed:

What is affordable housing?

In general, housing for which the occupant pays no more than 30 percent of his or her income for gross housing costs, including utilities, is categorized as affordable. Some jurisdictions may define affordable housing based on other criteria, however.

Figures are based on Kenosha County estimates from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, which compiles data from numerous federal government sources.

Where the problems lie

Because housing costs are burdensome for many low-income renters, significant numbers rely heavily on federal, state and local governments that provide programs to help reduce the risk of homelessness, such as subsidized privately owned rental housing, publically owned rental housing and rental housing voucher programs.

Who rents?

Other than yours truly — I currently rent a 1840s farmhouse (hosting occasional squirrels) in Kenosha County — some 34 percent, or more than 21,600 residents are renters. That rate is comparable to Wisconsin’s overall average of 33 percemt. An individual’s tenure choice (whether to rent or own) tends to be based on a number of factors including age, income and housing supply. The typical renter-occupied household is headed by an individual between 25 to 34 years with a median household income of less than $31,000/annually. The average rental household size is 2.53 occupants with the most common household type being single.

Trading off safety (and dignity) for affordability

Particularly in Midwestern states with aging housing stock and harsh weather conditions, local renters looking for affordable housing have difficulties finding quality sites. They are often forced to make hard choices and risky trade-offs just to secure a roof over their heads. Limited financial resources and few options mean compromises in safety including poor insulation, lack of pest control, asbestos and lead-based paint, failing electrical or plumbing installations, and dangerous mold from leaks and moisture. You get the point.

What’s the alternative?

Public sector programs can only be a part of the solution to substandard housing. Buffalove Development (www.buffalovedevelopment.com) and its founder Bernice Radle, are one stellar solution in the private sector, actively bucking the trend that perpetuates hazardous housing by making careful decisions about investing in low-income housing. Radle and her team of primarily female technicians, tradespeople and social activists, has made it their mission to sensitively rehabilitate residential properties one by one to offer dignified, contemporary housing options for low-income renters. As of late, the company has grown from investing and restoring historical residential properties to now branching into mixed-use properties that serve as catalysts for struggling commercial districts of Buffalo. Radle also has shown strong civic leadership by participating on the city of Buffalo’s Zoning Commission to actively revise zoning codes into sensible, modern-day housing regulation. Oh, and did I mention she is no more than 35 years of age?

Come meet Bernice Radle and learn more on Oct. 25 in Kenosha’s Uptown Brass Village at a free ‘Vacant to Vibrant’ morning event. Registration information can be found at www.vacanttovibrant.eventbrite.com.