Wisconsin Governor Proposes Biennial Budget with Emphasis on Housing and Homelessness Initiatives

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers released a 2023-2025 biennial budget proposal that contains significant resources to expand legal aid for renters facing eviction, strengthen tenant protections, prevent homelessness, improve the safety of rental homes, and rehabilitate affordable homes. In total, the budget would allocate nearly $200 million to affordable housing initiatives. 

Wisconsin affordable housing advocates celebrated the release of the budget proposal. “Governor Evers understands the critical need that housing, affordable housing, plays in healthy communities. His comprehensive proposals lay the groundwork for addressing Wisconsin’s housing crisis,” said Andy Heidt, housing policy and programs manager at Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, Inc. (WISCAP). However, he lamented the uphill battle to enact Governor Evers’s proposals in the conservative state legislature. “It is sad these solid proposals are dead on arrival with the gerrymandered majority.”

The budget proposal includes $60 million to expand civil legal aid, including a new program dedicated to providing no-cost legal representation for individuals facing eviction. This new fund would pave the way for Wisconsin to establish a statewide right to counsel in eviction court. In addition, the budget would allocate $1 million to expand the Department of Children and Families’ existing legal aid services for families facing eviction. 

Governor Evers’s budget outlines amendments to statewide landlord-tenant law. Over the past decade, the Wisconsin legislature made more than 100 changes to landlord-tenant law that shifted the balance of power towards landlords. These preemption laws curb the authority of local governments to strengthen tenant protections and hold landlords accountable. Under Governor Evers’s proposed budget, municipalities would be authorized to pass ordinances that limit the types of information a landlord may obtain from tenants in the rental application process, impose inspection requirements and strengthen enforcement of code violations, require landlords to disclose certain information to tenants and report information to municipalities, impose certain requirements and fees related to the inspection of rental homes, and establish eviction moratoriums.

The budget also proposes a $5 million Housing Safety Grant Pilot Program for the city of Milwaukee. This program would improve access to safe rental homes for Milwaukee residents. Proposed uses of the pilot grant funds include (1) developing a searchable database for renters that discloses the history of rental properties, (2) strengthening property inspection programs, and (3) providing resources for municipalities to assist landlords with small home repairs to remedy minor violations detected during inspections. In addition, the budget includes a $7.25 million pilot program to fund whole-home upgrades in Milwaukee. These upgrades would aim to reduce energy cost-burdens and create healthier living environments for low-income Milwaukee households.

To increase the supply of affordable homes, the budget would allocate $100 million to establish a Municipal Home Rehabilitation program, which would provide grant funding for municipalities to renovate and restore blighted residential properties. The budget also increases the annual limit on the total amount of state housing tax credits from $42 million to $100 million.

Finally, the budget recommends increased funding for the homelessness prevention programs outlined in the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’ (USICH) statewide action plan (see Memo, 3/7/22). The statewide action plan proposes robust resources for housing and homelessness programs that have been underfunded for more than a decade, the investment of federal funds into homelessness prevention and supportive services, and the creation of a permanent veteran rental assistance program and a new homelessness diversion program. The recommendations in Governor Evers’s budget proposal echo those of USICH, proposing more than $24 million to fund the initiatives outlined in the statewide action plan.

Governor Evers’s release of the budget proposal on February 15 marked the official start to the biennial budget process. The Wisconsin state legislature must approve and the Governor must sign the budget by July 1, 2023. If the new budget is not approved by this date, the government will operate under the 2021-2023 funding levels until the new budget is enacted.

For more information on the proposed budget, view the budget proposal here and the Governor’s press release here.