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Housing climate change agenda

By M.D. Kittle

April 21, 2020

MADISON —Pandemic be damned — big government goes on.

Particularly when it comes to the green, climate change agenda. 

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority is seeking public comment on proposed changes to its tax credit distribution plan for low-income housing.

WHEDA insists the proposal would “increase the positive impact, social and environmental impact of affordable housing projects while improving the competitiveness of rural developments.” But it appears it would prioritize environmental initiatives — possibly hurting the people its supposed to help. 

WHEDA expects to award $16 million of federal tax credits and $4 million worth of state tax credits, according to the agency’s press release.

The federal incentive offers an annual 9 percent tax credit on the cost of construction. Proposed changes include required higher Green Built Home standard scores, which point to more expensive environmental standards and higher costs. There’s also preferential treatment for minority-owned contractors and rural developments. 

Increased green standards may fit well into Gov. Tony Evers’ dream of eliminating carbon-based fuel in Wisconsin by 2050, but the extra layers of red tape and hoop-jumping that green building brings can price bidders (small contractors in particular) out of the market. That puts a strain on competition, potentially costing taxpayers more for government-led projects or  depriving affordable housing stock to low-income residents. 

It’s similar to prevailing wage laws that artificially inflate local wages for government construction projects, driving up the costs to taxpayers.

As Wisconsin struggles through an unprecedented public health crisis and the accompanying disruption of the economy, it may seem tone deaf that WHEDA is pushing even stricter green mandates. With hundreds of thousands of workers losing their jobs, a prolonged lockdown will only raise the demand for affordable housing. Could WHEDA’s push for expanded green initiatives cost Wisconsin’s low-income housing stock? 

News U Can Use 

Public comments on the proposed scoring for the 2021-22 awards are due by April 27 and may be submitted at SurveyMonkey or by sending an email to publiccomments@WHEDA.com

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