High cost of living in Dane County - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

High cost of living in Dane County

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A recent report finds you need to make just about $30,000 a year to afford a one bedroom apartment in Dane County.

Renter Cristina Lor can tell you it costs a lot to live in Madison. She's been moving around a lot trying to find the most affordable housing options in a high-priced market, both for herself and those who visit the Tenant Resource Center in Madison, where she works.

Lor just moved a week ago, after a long search for an apartment. She stayed with friends for about a year until she found an apartment for less than $700 a month downtown.

"I think it's actually on the lower end because it was really hard for me to find an apartment that was in the low $600 range for me," Lor tells 27 News. "The honest truth is that there aren't a lot of options for people."

Lor says she's seen more people coming in to the center in recent months, looking for help because they have nowhere else to go to find a home.

Last month, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reviewed "fair market rent" data, which is set by the federal government's Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office.

In Dane County, the FMR is $742 for a one bedroom apartment and $1,239 for a three bedroom. Unfortunately for many families, that's not affordable.

"35 percent of the families in Dane County make less than $50,000 a year," says Rob Dicke, executive director of Dane County Housing Authority. "So 522,104 families in Dane County can't afford a three bedroom apartment."

Dane County Housing Authority helps low income families navigate rent help opportunities funded by the federal government, but there aren't many options out there. The agency gets HUD funding for its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program and its public housing program. In both cases, families are required to pay just 30 percent of their income towards rent and utilities.

To qualify for the program, families must make less than 50 percent of the county median income. Dicke tells 27 News there just isn't enough funding though to help all the people who need it.

The program is supposed to fund more than 1,200 Section 8 vouchers, but the agency only has enough funding to serve about 1,050. That's just for families living outside of the city of Madison. The wait list to get HUD funding is about 250 people and has been closed since 2007.

"If the programs we had were fully funded, we would be able to do more. We need to do more as a community to create affordable housing," Dicke tells 27 News.

He says the agency is working with local governments to find ways to help solve chronic homelessness and the housing problem but more needs to be done.

According to statistics from Madison's Business Improvement District, as of January, there are about a dozen apartment construction projects in the works in the central downtown area right now. The developments are expected to bring at least 1,200 apartment units.

The prjects are not likely to help any low income families though, Dicke says, with a target market of wealthier UW-Madison students and Epic employees. The new renters are expected to boost business downtown.

Lor says she's glad she was able to find an affordable place to live, but she's worried the new, luxury apartments downtown may drive up the price of housing across town, even among more affordable rentals.

She knows how hard it can be for many to find a permanent home.

"You have to make certain sacrifices for having a roof over your head, a basic necessity," Lor says.

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