The housing shortage that city officials—and prospective residents—have had to deal with is not unique to Milton.
A statewide study released last month shows a lack of affordable housing options for first-time homebuyers and those who work in manufacturing and service industries.
“There is a shortage of housing, and affordable housing, but the term ‘affordable’ means different things to different people,” Milton City Administrator Al Hulick said.
“We may not be able to attract the workforce development (manufacturing and service industry) market because we don’t have for them an affordable place to live,” he said. “That’s a community-accepted adage I hear about the marketplace. For single-family, owner-occupied homes, it’s a tough market.”
One of the key questions the state study addresses is how municipalities can help make homes and development lots more affordable.
Steve Beers, chairman of the Wisconsin Realtor’s Association, the group that released the study, said that can be done in several ways. They include zoning adjustments to allow smaller houses on smaller lots, expediting the permit process and offsetting infrastructure costs when preparing lots for construction through tax increment financing or other means, Beers said.
In Milton, the median home price is $152,000, and the cost to develop a lot is $19,000. Government subsidies would be required to lower those costs, but that raises the philosophical question of whether government should intervene in the housing market, Hulick said.
While Milton does not have a policy against using TIF districts to develop infrastructure for residential subdivisions, the city’s TIF districts do not generate enough income to make that option viable, Hulick said.
Streamlining the permitting process also would present challenges, though Milton already has an advantage because of its size, Hulick said.
“We are a small operation, so we are faster than larger organizations. ... Can municipalities expedite those times? Yes, but it would mean hiring more staff,” he said.
Hulick also said planning subdivisions with smaller homes and lots is feasible if the city’s minimum standards are met, and it could be advantageous to the city when providing services. But he added a caveat: Smaller homes generally have not been in demand in Milton and Rock County.
Developers might explore the concept, but somebody has to be first to test the market, he said.
“Real estate is a demand-driven market. Developers don’t want to build what consumers don’t want,” Hulick said. “When it comes to risk, nobody wants to be first.”
Hulick also said the city is seeing people moving within Milton, leaving hope that homes people are leaving will be affordable for people looking for their first homes.
Solutions other than single-family homes, such as multifamily dwellings and condos, are also becoming available, he said.
“For the last three years in the region, that has been a hot topic, and we have seen some movement in that sector in both Milton and Janesville,” Hulick said.