A report by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Fiscal and Economic Research Center (FERC) shows that Fort Atkinson currently has a housing shortage and, by 2030, it will be much worse.
The report was presented to the Fort Atkinson City Council during its meeting Tuesday by UW-Whitewater student Cole Kinson.
Kinson said there were four takeaways from the report, the biggest being that there is an existing shortage of owner-occupied housing — non-rental homes — in the city.
On top of a current shortage, recent construction rates aren’t high enough to ease the shortage, meaning the problem will get worse over time. This issue is confounded by the high expected population growth in Fort Atkinson.
But even if construction rates increased, Kinson said, there isn’t enough buildable land on which for future developments to sprout up.
This means, according to Kinson, the city will need to come up with innovative strategies if the problem will be solved.
The FERC report shows there’s a housing shortage through two measurements:, the absorption rate and the vacancy rate.
The absorption rate measures how fast homes are sold in the city, while the vacancy rate measures how many homes sit empty.
Fort Atkinson’s absorption rate is 33.10 percent, nearly 11-percent higher than the Jefferson County average. The vacancy rate is incredibly low, under the national average of between 1.5 percent and 2 percent.
After the FERC report established that there is a shortage, Kinson projected, it will get worse without radical solutions.
He said the current average of homes built per year is 11 to 12. In order to have enough housing to accommodate the expected growth in population, the construction rate needs to be at 30 houses per year.
This creates a feedback loop, as there is a lack of selection that increases the shortage.
The solutions, according to Kinson, need to be creative. He suggested possibly developing brownfields — plots of land that are contaminated or harmed such as a closed gas station. Other options included annexing land outside of the city and rezoning lots currently set for other uses.
The council previously was presented a separate report on the lack of multi-family homes in Fort Atkinson. With evidence showing the city needs more development of every classification of housing, council members said they need to find a way to promote development.
“I’m going to throw out a challenge to private enterprise in our community,” council member Mason Becker said. “They need to step up to the plate. Frankly, I’m tired of talking about this. I’d like to break some ground because people want to move into our community.”
However, Becker cautioned acting too rashly on the issue. He said this is a long-term problem that requires carefully considered, long-term solutions.
“This has been a long-term problem in Fort Atkinson,” Becker said. “It’s not just this study telling us that. But we need to be careful about taking one data point and planning off that.”