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Low vacancy rates leave some struggling to find housing

Published On: Dec 03 2012 06:50:00 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 03 2012 09:00:46 PM CST


Housing experts believe the Madison-area vacancy rate could hit record lows.

While more rental properties are being built, there's no promise those new properties will shelter the most vulnerable in the area who are looking for affordable housing.

"I've been looking for low-income housing for me and my four kids for about three years now, and I've run out of places to stay," said Nissa Uriostegui.

Uriostegui is turning to the Dane County Housing Authority. Experts there said Madison's 2.3 percent vacancy rate could dip even lower.

"I think when we see the fourth-quarter numbers come out, we may see vacancy rates as low as sub-2 percent in the Madison area, which would be absolutely unheard of," said Rob Dicke, Dane County Housing Authority's executive director. "That would be the lowest since those numbers were recorded by Madison Gas and Electric in the last 16 years."

Vacancy numbers are never concrete, and McKenzie Apartment Company is doing its part to open up new opportunities for those looking to rent.

"You obviously, here in Verona, see a big benefit from Epic (Systems Corp.)," said developer Jack McKenzie, who is building a new rental property on the north end of Verona. "And at our properties now, we see an influx of Epic employees coming in."

McKenzie said his projects are driven by what the market currently demands, which often is not what lower income families truly need.

"What we find that's being developed right now, we're talking two bedrooms in the $1,100, $1,200 price range; it's just simply not affordable," Dicke said.

"I think there definitely is a market for well-done affordable housing," McKenzie said. "I think it starts with the city putting that into their neighborhood plans and into their zoning plans."

"We didn't ask to be in this situation," Uriostegui said. "We didn't ask for these cards to be handed to us, but we are here. And these kids deserve a place to stay, just like everyone else's kids."

The term "affordable housing" is defined as a rental unit where the total cost of rent and utilities does not exceed 30 percent of a renter's income. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Wisconsin is $740.

For that unit to be defined as "affordable," the renter's wage must be greater than $14 an hour. The wage for Wisconsin's average renter is just more than $11 an hour.

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