Fight for affordable housing

Eau Claire County is one of only three counties in the state with higher poverty rates than the state average

Jenna Erickson

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Eau Claire eats
April 2, 2020

Photo by Alee Erickson

A Fight for Affordable Housing took place at SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar on Saturday, Oct. 5.

Eau Claire County is one of only three in Wisconsin with higher poverty rates than the state average, according to the Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative.

The Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative of Western Wisconsin hosted the “Fight for Affordable Housing” event that took place 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5 at SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar, where citizens and community leaders of Eau Claire attended and talked about the poverty in the city and county.  

Members of the organization spoke to all who attended about what they can do to help empower their neighbors during this affordable housing crisis in the city of Eau Claire and surrounding areas, according to the Facebook event page.

The organization was joined by community leaders who have been on the front lines of this fight, said the Facebook event page. 

“Citizen Action of Wisconsin believes that housing is a human right,” Breana Stanley, the Northwestern Wisconsin cooperative organizer with Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said. “To see so many struggle to find affordable housing in Eau Claire — it’s important for us to have conversations regarding a solution.”

Stanley said this event allowed for conversation to happen and that the organization encourages everyone in this community to get involved.

“We see students also facing this issue, whether it’s overpriced student housing, out-of-touch landlords or even ‘homeless week’ during finals,” Stanley said. “Having good housing laws and a permanent Affordable Housing Commission can prevent these situations from continuing.”

“I believe affordable housing is a critical element to helping people succeed in life,” Zoe Roberts, a citizen of Eau Claire who attended the event, said.

Roberts said the fact that housing is unaffordable hinders the city’s growth, keeps people in poverty and prevents many students from staying in Eau Claire after graduating, which is “unacceptable.”

Susan Wolfgram, co-chair of Joining Our Neighbors In Advancing Hope’s affordable housing task force, attended the event last Saturday as well.

According to the JONAH Justice website, the organization is “comprised primarily of diverse faith communities and seeks to bring people in the Chippewa Valley into relationship and empower one another to build a healthier and fairer community for all.”

Wolfgram said the social justice group values collaboration and works with city officials, developers, neighborhoods, impacted people and others to find innovative ways to “meet the crisis need of affordable housing in our city.”

The organization believes housing is a human right. They strongly advocate for safe, quality, affordable housing for all in our city.

“Almost half of our residents are income insecure, struggling to provide for basic needs and one crisis away from not being able to pay the rent,” Wolfgram said. “One in seven live in poverty,” she said.

According to the United States Census American Community Survey, “almost half of renters and 20% of homeowners in Eau Claire spend more than 30% of their income on housing.”

Wolfgram said JONAH needs to work with landlords to provide supports to expand application criteria for those who have high rental barriers like eviction and conviction histories, poor credit and inadequate income. 

“Affordable housing is on a spectrum — from those without a roof, to middle income families who are not able to purchase a single family home,” Wolfgram said. “The widely-used definition of ‘affordable housing expenses, including utilities, does not comprise more than 30 percent of gross household income,” she said. 

JONAH is advocating for an Affordable Housing Commission to add to their Chippewa Valley City Council, a stakeholder group of local citizens invested in affordable housing. Developers, associations, landlords, realtors, impacted people, housing advocates and others are in need for this commission, Wolfgram said. City Council members are currently in the process of moving this Commission forward.

People within the JONAH organization, such a Scott Allen and Joshua Clements,  are also active members of the Chippewa Valley Regional Affordable Housing Task Force. 

Clements and Allen, the co-facilitators of the Chippewa Valley Regional Housing Task Force, have recently created a goal statement to move forward, which they discussed this past Saturday, Allen said.

Erickson can be reached at [email protected]