Housing assistance bill introduced: How it may address labor supply strain

Published: Jul. 22, 2021 at 8:06 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Within a legislative package intended to provide economic security, one bill attempts to target barriers in housing and, in turn, alleviate a statewide strain in labor supply.

LRB 4272 would create a pilot program allowing counties to apply for a grant, which would help residents with down payments on homes.

State Representative Kristina Shelton (D - Green Bay) introduced it Thursday at a press conference alongside Democratic colleagues. The proposed legislation is a part of the Building Economic Security Together package, also known as B.E.S.T.

“Our families need a pathway to ownership,” Rep. Shelton said. “It is one of the most transformative ways that we can create economic security and build generational wealth for years to come.”

Rep. Shelton said parts of Wisconsin struggle with not having enough housing.

“The housing crisis is directly connected too as we try to recruit and retain new workers,” she said. “When you think about the health and well-being of our economy, it’s connected to the health and well-being of our workers. These bills are directly related to supporting workers so that they can get to work every day for our economy.”

According to Noah Williams, a UW-Madison economics professor and director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE), the struggle to hire has existed in the state prior to the pandemic. But during the current recovery, he said, “It’s worse than it’s ever been. Job openings are at record highs.”

He explained, the lack of affordable housing can contribute to strains on worker supply, as there can be a “mismatch” between where people live and where job openings are.

However, Williams said he is not sure housing assistance will be the solution to labor supply challenges.

“There are already a number of programs available from the state and the federal government for housing assistance,” he said. “There hasn’t been a lot of evidence showing that those actually lead to enhanced substantially enhanced homeownership, and they may in fact provide a disincentive for people to work.”

He continued, “It’s basically an income effect. You’re providing them some income, and so they would be able to work less for that.”

Sen. Melissa Agard, Rep. Francesca Hong and Rep. Sondy Pope introduced other bills in the B.E.S.T package Thursday. According to Sen. Agard’s office, the other bills include:

  • LRB 3393: For babies born to eligible families in Wisconsin, the state would invest $3 thousand. Access to these funds would be granted at 18 years old, and the money can be used to buy a home, pursue higher education, start a business, contribute toward retirement or investments or pay for childcare.
  • SB 452: Requires the state to increase wage to $10.15 upon enactment and $15 within a year. It would then adjust to inflation, restore local control to set their own minimum wage and end tipped wage.
  • LRB 4155: Creates a state-run marketplace to access information and invest in vetted retirement plans.
  • LRB 2962: Repeals the state tax on pensions of public safety and other frontline workers.
  • LRB 4185: Requires pharmaceutical companies to report to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance and Department of Health Services when a price will be increasing by more than 25 percent.

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