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Ed White

Sauk County Development Corp. Executive Director Ed White presents results from a housing study Tuesday to the Baraboo Common Council.

A Sauk County housing study could help communities fill gaps in the market if its findings spur action.

The study, spearheaded by the Sauk County Development Corp., found demand rising for senior housing and rentals, particularly units with more than two bedrooms. The county doesn’t have enough affordable housing.

On Tuesday, the organization’s Executive Director Ed White presented the study’s findings to the Baraboo Common Council and urged city leaders to act on them. “Government has to be involved here somewhere, moving the ball along,” White said.

The group conducted the study with help from the consulting firm Vierbicher Associates of Reedsburg. The study was sponsored by several private and public partners, including the city.

Relying on survey responses, demographic data and focus group and community meeting input, the study sought to highlight gaps in the county’s housing stock. It supplied a countywide profile as well as recommendations specific to each community.

White suggested Baraboo create an ad hoc housing committee, comprised of city leaders, real estate agents and builders, to respond to the study’s findings. He recommended identifying three or four goals and following through.

“A study on a shelf is just a bunch of paper,” White said. “I don’t think you would’ve participated in this study if you weren’t going to do anything with it.”

Mayor Mike Palm said the study’s findings provide ample food for thought. “It’s fairly comprehensive, and a lot of information to absorb,” he said.

Countywide, there’s an inadequate supply of housing for residents older than 65, particularly one-story homes affordable for retirees. In Baraboo, the percentage of homes inhabited by residents 60 and older rose from 34 to nearly 38 percent between 2011 and 2016.

“We are still getting older as a county,” White said.

Nor are there enough three- and four-bedroom homes, for rent or purchase, available to households that increasingly include multiple generations of adults. Baraboo’s average household size is 2.3 residents.

“That’s what people are looking for,” White said. “The market is building one- and two-bedrooms, one or two baths.”

There’s across-the-board need for housing affordable to residents with low to moderate incomes. About 35 percent of the survey’s 400 respondents reported spending more than a quarter of their income on housing. Among Baraboo’s renters, 47 percent reported spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing.

In Baraboo, strategies to meet such needs could include helping developers analyze potential sites for single-family housing subdivisions, extending utilities to undeveloped parts of the city, or buying vacant properties and reselling them to developers.

Vierbicher projects Baraboo will add 169 households by 2023. White noted the city has plentiful vacant property. “Land is not your issue. Development costs may be, but land isn’t,” White said.

The survey found 26 percent of respondents hope to buy or sell a home in the next two years. Baraboo’s housing vacancy rate decreased from 5.6 percent to 4.9 percent between 2011 and 2016. Its rental vacancy rate fell from 3.3 percent to 2 percent. More residents are renting, with Baraboo’s percentage of owner-occupied homes dipping from 62 percent to 56, and its percentage of renter-occupied housing rising from 38 to 44.

White said the housing market has rebounded from its crash a decade ago. Baraboo saw nearly 1,000 sales last year, almost double the number of sales in 2008. “It’s gradually come back up,” he said. “Now things are pretty healthy as far as home sales.”

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley or call him at 745-3507.

Baraboo News Republic Senior Reporter