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Taskforce Eyes Solutions to Housing Shortage in Greater Jefferson County


Jefferson, Wis., May 17, 2023 – A taskforce made up of representatives from Thrive Economic Development, Jefferson County and the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation has been meeting for the past year to identify innovative approaches and solutions to address the need for additional housing options in Jefferson County.

The taskforce’s primary goals are to:

  • Increase the supply of available housing in Jefferson County
  • Support access to housing that is attainable to the county’s workforce
  • Promote development in Jefferson County by creating targeted local incentives that will support 500 new housing unit types in the next five years

On May 18, the group will host a housing summit in Lake Mills to give an update on its efforts. The event will bring together employers, developers, financial institutions, municipal and community leaders and other stakeholders, and feature panel discussions and a keynote address about the current state of workforce housing by Dr. Kurt Paulsen, Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at UW-Madison.

“Historically, our work has centered around the traditional economic development activities of business retention and attraction, but when the needs of our businesses and communities changed, we needed to change along with them,” notes ThriveED President Deb Reinbold.

ThriveED launched a strategic refocus of its efforts in 2022, with housing rising to the top as a primary focus.

“Housing is economic development. When the local workforce can’t find housing they can afford, the entire community suffers,” adds Reinbold. “As the saying goes, a house is where a job goes to sleep at night.”

Tracy Cross and Associates projects derived and pent-up demand of at least 3,500 market rate housing units through 2028 for Jefferson County.

“That means if 3,500 housing units were constructed by 2028, they’d be fully occupied immediately,” explains Reinbold.

The vacancy rate for rentals in the county is less than two percent, well below the typical rate of six percent.

“Like communities across the state and country, Jefferson County is experiencing a shortage of housing of all types,” says Ben Wehmeier, Jefferson County Administrator. “The Housing Summit will bring together business, community and industry leaders for an important conversation about a complex problem.”

Commuting pattern data shows that more than half of workers in jobs located in Jefferson County commute from outside the county each day.

“From the beginning, our conversations have been guided by the belief that If you work in Greater Jefferson County, you should be able to afford to live here too,” notes Tina Crave, President and CEO of the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation and a member of the taskforce.

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