Research and Engagement Phase Summary
The first phase of building a pilot is to better understand the challenges at play through the experiences of those who interact with the challenges on a regular basis. To accomplish this, members of the pilot design team and WHEDA staff designed a series of engagement activities with those working closest to the affordable workforce housing challenge. For the Door County Pilot Design Team, this included area employers, representatives from local government, developers, and real estate professionals.
During the first week of February, focus groups were held on the core focus areas identified during the pilot kickoff, which included 1) financing options, 2) new constructions models, and 3) the public perception of affordable housing in Door County.
In the public perception focus group, many attendees spoke to the impact short term rentals is having the ability for community members to become homeowners.
"It is heartbreaking – these young couples get beat out by people who can pay cash, quick close - it's a major challenge for first-time home buyers"
The group also discussed the negative perception of affordable housing in the community. For many participants who represented local employers, the limited options for low to moderate income employees is putting pressure on their workforce. There was a feeling that even though there is strong evidence to show the need for affordable housing in the community, that data hasn’t translated into action.
"If everyone already knows we need this [affordable housing], then what is going to convince you?"
Financing & New Construction
Given the overlap between the challenges in financing and constructing new workforce affordable housing, the pilot design team elected to combine forces on these two core focus areas.
Major takeaways from this focus group discussion hovered around the lack of developable land, and the challenges in financing the infrastructure investments needed to deliver more housing. When land does become available competition is fierce, and often those able to purchase at higher price points push out all other buyers.
"Competition and opportunity are a huge issue - individuals who build luxury tend to buy up lots with water and sewer as soon as they are available."
The group also discussed the need for coordination and partnership between local employers and brokerages or others who are able to connect employees relocating to Door County with housing opportunities.
"We need partnerships with businesses and other organizations who understand inventory options and supply/demand"
Armed with the many thoughtful insights from the focus groups, the team will prepare for a two day-long event, the Ideation Sessions, where key findings will be synthesized and further prioritized into core focus areas. There will also be a public brainstorming session, where prior focus group attendees, as well as households and prospective homeowners directly impacted by local affordability pressures, will work with the design team to collaboratively generate ideas to further inform the pilot work.