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WHEDA's Rural Affordable Workforce Housing Initiative

The shortage of affordable workforce housing in rural Wisconsin poses far-reaching challenges. Higher construction costs; limited developer interest due to the smaller scale of rural projects; aging housing stock; not enough affordable rental options for local workers; zoning and infrastructure challenges; as well as limited financing for new construction and renovation projects are the primary factors contributing to the current shortage of rural workforce housing.

WHEDA’s Rural Affordable Workforce Housing Initiative (RAWFHI) represents an effort to address these challenges. The $10 million initiative, launched in 2020, includes supplemental multifamily and single family financing tools and a workforce housing community pilot effort.

In multifamily, WHEDA’s Housing Tax Credit Program and Supplemental Subordinate Debt Financing are tools currently being used to encourage developers to participate in rural affordable housing projects. In single family, WHEDA’s expanded Easy Close Downpayment Assistance Loan allows for up to 6% of a home’s purchase price to be used for downpayment and closing costs. This new financing along with an expanded number of participating lenders are helping to increase homeownership opportunities. With many rural communities facing shortages of move-in ready homes, WHEDA also continues to review and adapt its low-cost home improvement and renovation loans to meet market need.

While WHEDA supplemental financing tools help tackle financing gaps, the Rural Affordable Workforce Housing Pilot establishes an adaptive framework to identify needs, evaluate choices, and implement solutions.

The Pilot Design Process works in conjunction with efforts within WHEDA's multifamily and single-family programs to promote affordable rental and homeownership opportunities which targets a holistic approach to affordable workforce housing in rural communities. Pilot communities were selected through a competitive process to allow WHEDA to prioritize and work with communiites that demonstrated a readiness to create solutions that can work across rural Wisconsin; current land use policies that support affordable workforce housing; and an openness to innovative solutions with new collaborative partners.

The three communities that engaged with the pilot process include Chequamegon Bay, Door County, and Marinette County. Through the pilot community process, potential housing solutions will take shape in different ways depending on community need and inform innovative solutions that can be duplicated in other areas. The Rural Affordable Workforce Housing Initiative will strengthen relationships, build trust, and activate WHEDA partners and stakeholders to work together in advancing Wisconsin’s affordable housing options in our state’s rural communities.

Access to safe, affordable shelter is fundamental to the sustainability of our communities because housing provides a foundation for public health, economic well-being and environmental stewardship. If Wisconsin is to thrive, rural communities require effective tools and support for their housing needs. Through its Rural Affordable Workforce Housing Intiaitive, WHEDA is working directly with communities to understand housing needs and leveraging the collective strengths and resources of its stakeholders to develop impactful housing solutions that can be replicated across the state.