Daily Cardinal: Associated Students of Madison holds first training in preparation for lobbying day, prioritizes topics concerning mental health, rent control

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Source: The Daily Cardinal

Student members of ASM are preparing which topics will be presented to the state legislature on lobbying day to best benefit the UW-Madison student body.

The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) held a pre-lobbying day meeting Thursday evening to prepare for lobbying day on Feb. 22. Topics covered included an overview of the initiatives ASM will be advocating for on behalf of the student body, how to lobby a legislature and the schedule for lobbying day.

ASM is the official student governance body of UW-Madison, representing the needs of over 45,000 students. The student group works to best represent the student body and speak up on legal rights, recommending university policies, budgets and candidates for UW employment.

During this meeting, MGR Govindarajan, the legislative affairs chair for ASM, led a thorough training for students who volunteered to participate and speak with the legislature on lobbying day. Govindarajan advised students on how best to represent themselves and the student body.

“My job is to advocate for students at the local, state and federal levels about what students care about at the moment,” said Govindarajan.

Govindarajan presented two topics ASM will focus on during lobbying day, when students will present their case to the Governor on behalf of the student body.

“Mental health and affordable housing are two issues that really matter in Madison,” said Govindarajan. “It’s not a new issue at all, and it impacts a lot of students.”

Govindarajan shared that ASM considers state issues, as well as other issues that impact a large number of students, and makes sure that the topics presented can be resolved by the legislature.

“On lobbying day we will talk to the legislature, the people who vote on bills,” said Govindarajan.

Prioritizing mental health funding 

ASM previously worked with Gov. Tony Evers’ office to increase funding for mental health services at University Health Services (UHS). According to a UW-Madison Healthy Minds study, 21% of students screened positively for depression overall, and 16% of students screened positively for an anxiety disorder.

Students are deeply affected by their mental health, and students expressed that UHS needs increased resources to provide appointments on time — rather than have a three-week wait period like they currently do, said Govindarajan.

Two years ago, the governor requested $15 million for mental health funding, and then the joint finance committee within the legislature cut that to $0, Govindarajan explained. To prevent this recurrence, ASM is speaking up, he said.

“This is holding people accountable,” said Govindarajan, referring to the upcoming lobbying day.

Govindarajan coached ASM members on how to present these topics of discussion in an impactful and engaging manner when speaking to the legislature. Members were encouraged to bring personal stories and figure out the best way to articulate their ideas to better assist the student body’s needs.

Advocating for rent control

Rising rent in the city of Madison is another area of concern among the student body, according to ASM’s collected data. Students are struggling to keep up with the current cost of living and are forced to spend countless hours early in the fall semester looking for housing, making calls and attempting to make a housing arrangement work in an affordable manner, shared Govindarajan during his presentation.

“The legislature prohibits rent control,” said Govindarajan, referencing the Wisconsin state law that states, “No city, village, town or county may regulate the amount of rent or fees charged for the use of a residential rental dwelling unit.”

The Madison Region Economic Partnership said Dane County needs to produce 4,500 to 5,000 net new units per year to meet growth projections of 100,000 additional residents by 2030. The county’s current population is roughly 561,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Data from the ASM interest form that was sent to the student body and filled out by those interested in joining ASM further proves concern from students, as 80% of respondents voted that mental health and/or rent control are major challenges for the student body. ASM’s lobbying day aims to draw attention to these issues, instilling change for students in Madison.

“This is a good opportunity for students to get involved,” said Govindarajan. “It’s more than just voting. A lot of students vote and that’s really good for getting into the civic process; however, actually speaking to your legislature and creating that connection is really important for students. It’s really exciting to see a lot of people get involved in this.”

ASM meets Thursday evenings and will continue preparing for lobbying day on Feb. 22 in the coming weeks.

Article originally published on dailycardinal.com

Wisconsin State Journal: High rents are pushing many out of the Madison area market

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Source: Wisconsin State Journal

Karen Gabriel rents a 532-square-foot studio apartment in Madison’s Allied Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood but spends most of her free time looking for a new place to live. She calls her daily experience “roof anxiety.”

“I’m not asking for much,” Gabriel said while driving one of her usual routes after work in search of promising “For Rent” ads.

Gabriel, a paralegal who makes roughly $36,000 a year after taxes, is about to be priced out of her apartment. She pays $899 a month in rent for her small studio but recently was informed by her property manager that will increase to between $999 and $1,099. Gabriel can’t afford that, she said, since her $1,400 biweekly paycheck also goes toward food and other expenses.

Renters across the Madison area are grappling with increasingly unaffordable monthly payments, caused largely by a housing shortage and tight market.

A surging population and high costs for the construction materials to build new apartment complexes and houses are exacerbating the problem, said UW-Madison professor of urban planning Kurt Paulsen.

Currently, the county is producing 1,500 single-family homes and 2,250 multifamily units per year, according to MadREP.

“Until we can increase housing production to keep up with projected population growth, housing prices will likely continue to rise due to growing demand,” MadREP said.

Helen Bradbury, the president of privately owned Stonehouse Development, said that as developers grapple with the continuing high price of construction materials, among other things, the cost burden falls to renters.

Stonehouse Development has 18 properties in Wisconsin, with 15 in Madison, which alone comprise 1,000 subsidized rental housing units and 100 market-rate units.

“If inflation takes off tomorrow, I’m going to suffer that loss and deficit for the entire year, as all our tenants sign a one-year lease,” Bradbury said.

Not only are there operating and utility expenses to pay. There are also real estate taxes and property insurance.

“We have seen an exponential increase in utilities,” Bradbury said. “My director of operations told me to expect a property insurance increase of 20% to 30% next year.”

Amberly Tobin, a 34-year-old who rents on Madison’s West Side, said she has four college degrees in the sciences, two of them graduate degrees. She makes roughly $50,000 a year working full time as a scientist.

But to help cover living expenses and several other bills, Tobin said she lives with a roommate and tends bar on weekends and for weddings. Bartending adds roughly $6,000 to $9,000 to Tobin’s annual income.

Tobin said she pays $1,160 in rent. That will soon increase to $1,290, she said — a figure Tobin considers unaffordable even with her three jobs. She wishes she could buy a house or condo but said she can’t afford that either. She’s “barely making ends meet” as it is.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Tobin said, adding that while she and her roommate are searching for another place to live in the Madison region, the two have yet to find any promising leads.

Glimmers of hope

“There is some reason for optimism,” O’ Keefe said. The improving vacancy rate corresponds to a surge in the issuance of permits for new housing in Madison.

Within the past five years, Madison has approved 13,433 multifamily housing units and 2,189 single-family homes, according to figures the city provided the Wisconsin State Journal. The city approved 730 multifamily units and 1,325 single-family homes in 2018. In 2022, it approved 4,076 multifamily units and 150 single-family homes.

It’s unclear the exact proportion of multifamily units and single-family homes that fall under the “affordable” threshold.

But the city has brought 28 rental development projects to fruition with its Affordable Housing Fund that started a decade ago. The projects have produced or will produce 2,486 new housing units, 1,942 of which support households at or below 60% of Dane County’s household median income of just above $40,000, the city said.

The Affordable Housing Fund in general helps local developers secure equity in Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority tax credits to support the construction of affordable rental units. The City Council this year increased the fund to $10 million — double the sum from when Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway took office in 2019.

The city also recently made changes to its zoning code to encourage more dense housing along future routes for bus rapid transit outside the core Downtown.

At the Dane County level, a survey is being conducted that will help the county determine how it should tackle regional housing crises.

‘Nothing fancy’

Gabriel is still looking for an apartment.

One day last month, she explored Madison’s South Side. Later that evening, Gabriel perused websites in search of more leads.

Despite having no luck in scoring a dwelling that suits her needs, Gabriel is already packing up her apartment — boxes have overtaken her compact living room, bedroom and kitchen. Her lease is up in June.

“My ideal (living space) would have 1,000 square feet with a garage,” Gabriel, who originally went to school for photography, said during her drive. “Maybe a basement. A washer and dryer inside. Two bedrooms. I would put my crafts in one bedroom. Nothing fancy. I would love to have a fireplace for the cold days. I would also like a kitchen I could maybe bake some cookies in.”

Article originally published on madison.com