Menomonie understands it’s time to develop solutions to the housing shortage affecting the city.

The city council and planning commission conducted a panel discussion Monday to receive input, create discussion and think about solutions to housing issues within Menomonie.

The rental and housing markets in Menomonie are suffering from high costs, a lack of options for both low-income residents and near retirement people, and incentives for developers to build.

The council and planning commission brought in individuals who deal with the issue each day as they work to identify solutions. The five-person panel included Dairy State Bank Vice President Jodi Carr, Vets Plus Inc. President Dave Nelson, RE/MAX real estate agent Cora Frank, Northwest Wisconsin Realtors Association Government Affairs Director Bruce King and Stepping Stones Shelter Coordinator Heidi Hooten.

Nelson said there isn’t housing options for working people whose children have moved out. A large home is no longer needed, but there aren’t places to go, he said. They’re willing to move and allow a new family to buy their home, but a better option beside staying often isn’t available.

“The people that own the houses today, where are they going to go?” Nelson asked. “In order for somebody new to move into that house, the current owner has to go somewhere, and if there isn’t a better option for them, they’re going to stay put.”

Council member Jan Traxler said she’s heard of others who are willing to move to housing for people 55 and older, and move out of their large homes with upkeep becoming more difficult.

“If we were to have more 55-plus housing, that would free up some of the larger homes because we have friends that would like to sell their places, their houses, and move into something that’s for 55-plus, and it’s not around,” Traxler said.

Hooten works with struggling families and people looking for housing in Menomonie. There can be significant barriers for some of these people to find a place to live with a shortage of money, a criminal history or poor landlord history. With a low supply of rental units, landlords are more willing to rent to those that don’t have those barriers, she said.

“It’s been a real struggle to get people housed, and I get calls on the daily from people asking me for help,” Hooten said.

Every community is facing housing shortages, King noted. Cities have to consider alternate ways of zoning that veer away from standard zoning practices. That might mean allowing duplexes and triplexes in areas that have been strictly for single-family homes, he said.

“The economy has returned to growth, as we all know around here, but the housing stock hasn’t,” King said. “The housing stock is aging, construction price and housing costs are rising faster than inflation and incomes.”

Developers have run into challenges attempting to construct new housing options in Menomonie. Developers have grown tired of “banging their head against the wall,” Carr said, as they work to get projects approved by the council.

There is building happening outside of the city, Carr said, and in order to bring that activity into the city, the council must think about what their goals are. The city should be trying to generate economic growth and attract new employers, she said.

“With city council, I understand it’s very important to represent the people that have elected you, but there’s kind of that not-in-my-backyard attitude that people don’t want change,” Carr said. “They want to be able to look across this nice open field. If you moved into the city, you’ve kind of eliminated that ability of being able to have that nice open space. If they wanted to live in the country they should have lived in the country.”

Planning commission member Richard Martinson said Menomonie has developed a reputation of not being easy for developers to work with. When projects go through the planning commission and then are presented to the council and are being turned down, that isn’t a successful strategy for new construction in the city, he said.

“We all listen to our constituents, but we have to make the decision based on what’s good for the city of Menomonie,” Martinson said, “and when we’re sitting here saying we got this shortage of housing, and yet we’re not approving any new housing developments — folks where do you think the new housing is going to come from?

Employees have looked elsewhere for housing, Nelson said, and the rental market is so flooded with individuals looking for places that landlords are comfortable violating a lease to get another tenant.

The demand for single-family homes is just as high, Frank said. If a house has a good price, very quickly multiple offers will be made. This drives up the price up to a point where it’s beyond the price of some pre-approved loans home buyers secure from lenders, Carr added.

Council and planning commission member Lee Schwebs said it’s time the council and planning commission considers other options. Zoning has to be looked at, and they have to be open-minded, he said.

Fixing the housing in the city needs an approach that is best for not just the current residents of the Menomonie, but also possible future residents.

“I think it’s important for the city council members to understand that it’s kind of like a business,” Carr said. “We need to make the city successful, and (look at) how to make money and how to bring employers in and how to bring employees in to cure the labor shortage and obviously cure the housing shortage.”

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