Wisconsin’s full-time Legislature goes on vacation, and Madison’s vision for housing gets, uh, smaller.
Illustration: Ghosts and ghouls are shown swarming about the Wisconsin Capitol. Illustration by Maggie Denman.
Each week in Wisconsin politics brings an abundance of bad policies, bad takes, and bad actors. In our new recurring feature, Capitol Punishments, we bring you the week’s highlights (or low-lights) from the state Legislature and beyond.
Wait, that’s it?
Raise your hand if you want to take a 10-month vacation and still get your full annual salary. That’s what the Republican leadership of our great state Legislature decided they’re going to do—last week’s floor sessions were the last ones scheduled for the year.
Before they turned out the lights last week, the Republican majority passed a bunch of bills on election law stemming from the “big lie” of voter fraud in the 2020 election—legislation that is probably going to be vetoed but featured prominently in campaign ads.
They almost went another year without funding a replacement for the Lincoln Hills School for Boys, which the Legislature voted unanimously to close in 2018. Earlier in the week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the proposal to fund a $42 million replacement facility wouldn’t be brought to the floor because that would give Gov. Tony Evers a win before the election.
That must have backfired, because the proposal was brought to the floor where it passed unanimously. Vos then credited [check notes]… Rebecca Kleefisch?
And that’s it! They are done for the year!
In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wisconsin legislature was the least active full-time legislative body in the country and went 300 days without passing any legislation. Instead, the Republican majority was more concerned with suing Gov. Tony Evers, public health departments, and other entities over COVID safety protocols and mask mandates, than doing… anything of any possible use to the people of Wisconsin.
While the pandemic may be subsiding (for now) Rep. Francesca Hong (D-Madison) pointed out that there’s plenty the Legislature could do to improve Wiscosinites’ lives, many of which are widely popular: decriminalizing cannabis, expanding BadgerCare, establishing a public health plan through BadgerCare, setting clean water regulations, protecting abortion access, or any of the other 256 proposals put forward by Democrats this session that never received a hearing.
Hell, the state is sitting on a projected $3.8 billion surplus and a $1.7 billion rainy-day fund.That money could go a long way towards funding public schools, infrastructure, affordable housing projects, and the childcare industry, which would make it easier for parents to earn an income.
The point is, Wisconsin’s Republican leadership isn’t clocking out for the year due to a lack of resources or good ideas. It’s due to a lack of interest.
That’s not what we meant
When we said “We need more affordable housing in Madison,” what we did not mean was, “Tear down some of the few reasonably-priced units in the city and build adult dorms.”
Developer Randy Alexander wants to tear down the apartment building at 139 W. Wilson St., which has 25 one-bedroom units—each about 800 square feet and renting for $800 to $900 a month—and build 335 “micro-units”—ranging from 275 to 400 square-feet—as “affordable workforce housing” (though the developer hasn’t given a price range).
For people wondering what a 300 square-foot apartment looks like, here’s a video giving you a grand tour of a unit in New York. One way to make the unit liveable was installing a Murphy bed. How retro!
I want to ask everyone involved in this project to ask themselves, would you want to live here? Not, “Would you live here when you were in your 20s and single,” but would you live here now, with your partner, pets, kids, etc.
One underlying assumption with affordable housing projects like this is that the affordability crisis is only affecting young, single people fresh out of college. But in Madison, the crisis has expanded to include older adults, couples, and families with children—people who are looking for long-term, stable housing. People who need space to call their own and build a life.
I spoke with a housing expert last week who told me it is nearly impossible today for a working-class family to afford a home in Madison. Those are the people we need to be addressing: grown adults who are working and looking to put down roots in a community.
And I really hope the path forward to address affordability is not by lowering expectations.