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Survey: Troubling housing costs in Monroe
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MONROE - A recent housing study by land planning and community development company Vierbicher Associates Inc. on behalf of the City of Monroe found almost 40 percent of the respondents knew someone who may be in danger of becoming, or currently is, homeless.

Dan Lindstrom, planning and community development manager at Vierbicher, said the total income respondents reported to have used to pay household expenses explains the 38 percent of people who said they know someone who may be dealing with tightened finances.

"Twenty-eight respondents said they had someone living with them who had no permanent place to live," Lindstrom said. "What's more surprising is that almost 40 percent are struggling with housing costs."

Though the number of people who said yes to the question of whether they knew someone with this problem was high, comparisons between different communities can be difficult to make, Lindstrom added.

However, he said a correlation could be found between the number of people precariously balancing on the edge of a financial crisis and the amount homeowners or renters spend on household expenses. The term encompasses payments like rent and mortgage, as well as utility costs and other payments a homeowner might have to make to keep their home functional.

Allocated funds should not exceed 30 percent of household income. The amount is what Lindstrom described as a "comfortable threshold." The highest number of respondents, 16.5 percent, said they spend 40 percent or more on housing costs.

According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, families that pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered "cost burdened" and may have trouble with other essential expenses, such as buying groceries, paying for gas to get around, medical costs and clothing purchases.

Green County Economic Supervisor Mark Nelson has been working with low-income housing issues for more than 30 years, including three in Monroe. Nelson said a significant problem is housing costs.

"Affordable housing for low-income individuals is pretty much non-existent," Nelson said. "From personal experience moving here three years ago, and I am not a low-income individual, there is also a housing shortage in Monroe in general."

Nelson added that the average rental for a mobile home is $550, which is seen as "affordable" but can be a staggering number for a person with a limited income.

Assistant City Administrator Martin Shanks shared a press release on Aug. 5 in which he said the identification of housing issues by Vierbicher has helped guide the city.

"This study confirmed some of the themes in our Comprehensive Plan, but also took the extra step in identifying more issues and more ways we can help address those issues," Shanks said in the release.

"Now we have to take a serious look at what resources we have to address those issues and ensure there are mechanisms, policies and programs put in place to carry them out as needed."

Monroe Common Council, upon hearing the findings, instructed Vierbicher employees and city staff to explore options regarding housing authorities. The city currently has a housing authority and a redevelopment authority.

In the release, it was noted that a Monroe Community Development Authority would combine the powers of both bodies, resulting in a committee with the ability to carry out roles such as the acquisition of property, borrowing funds, grant applications, administering programs and leasing or renting living spaces.

According to the release, Vierbicher and city staff will reach out to hear from the current authorities within the city on how to utilize the housing study issues brought to light, and whether or not creating a community development authority would be possible.