When lawmakers in Madison, Wisconsin took a step towards a zoning change that would increase affordable housing, the REALTORS® generated a strong showing of public support with an Issues Mobilization campaign and a consumer Call For Action. The positive response counterbalanced vocal opposition from powerful homeowner associations and helped tip the City Council vote to a narrow win.
Like most communities across the country, the City of Madison, Wisconsin is facing a dire shortage of affordable housing, with demand projected to increase steadily in the foreseeable future. So, when the mayor and several alders proposed easing a zoning ordinance in order to lower a barrier to the construction of multi-family housing, the state and local REALTORS® gave them all the encouragement they could muster. With help from the REALTOR® Party, they launched an Issues Mobilization campaign to rally public support in a consumer Call for Action. The change was approved, but by only a very narrow margin, increasing ‘allowable densities’ as a matter of right in certain zoning districts that previously required a more difficult, subjective approval process.
The revision of the ordinance in question creates an expedited review process for small and medium-density projects, enabling re-development to happen with greater predictability and less expense, says Robert Procter, Government Affairs Director of the REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin. Opposition to the proposed change, he explains, came mainly from local homeowner associations, which, in Madison, tend to cover large areas, and carry correspondingly outsized influence on such zoning matters. “With our campaign to drive public comment in favor of increasing and diversifying housing, we showed that there was significant support for the city’s efforts, and provided a positive counterbalance to the vocal opposition from the neighborhood associations,” he says. “The lawmakers were so inundated with petitions from these associations, and opposition voiced at public hearings, that it was important to give them real data points demonstrating public will on the other side. It helped take some of the political risk out of a decision in favor of the zoning revision.”
The Issues Mobilization campaign directed digital advertising to more than 53K targeted voters over the course of two weeks, sending emails and patch-through calls to the alders, including messages of thanks to those supporting the zoning change. In the end, it passed by only two votes: 11 to 9. According to Procter, in addition to the zoning victory, itself, the consumer Call for Action was a solid boost for the REALTORS®’ credibility. “We demonstrated to the mayor and the entire City Council that REALTORS® are willing to put serious effort and resources behind creating more affordable housing and amping-up the ‘missing middle’ through higher-density development in Madison. Delivering this kind of grassroots support goes a long way toward dispelling the cynical assumption that trade associations are less than altruistic when it comes to public policy.”
Procter acknowledges that this particular win is a relatively modest step, but in the right direction: “We know the housing crisis isn’t going to be solved with any single huge solution, but we have to keep after these micro-changes, which will eventually have a significant cumulative effect. A campaign like this is also a good model for affordable housing advocates and stakeholders throughout the state, who can point to the progress and say, ‘Look what Madison did!’”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® are helping local government take steps to increase housing density in Madison, Wisconsin, contact Government Affairs Director Robert Procter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608.283.6762.