Study Finds Severe Workforce Housing Shortage Across Wisconsin

Date: September 3, 2019

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin REALTORS® Association (WRA) today released a groundbreaking new study, “Falling Behind,” that shows a severe workforce housing shortage and highlights the need for bold bipartisan action now to address this growing concern. From a high of more than 30,000 single-family home permits authorized in 2004 to fewer than 12,500 permits authorized in 2017, Wisconsin is on the cusp of not being able to adequately provide housing for today's growing workforce needs.

The detailed report showcases the primary causes of the workforce housing shortage and the subsequent results that this shortage brings to the state of Wisconsin.

“For more than a decade, we have seen a steady decline in the volume of housing construction in the Badger State, while we have seen a dramatic jump in employment,” said Tom Larson, the WRA’s Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs. “Without an adequate supply of workforce housing to meet the growing need, Wisconsin will not be able to attract the workers necessary to help our economy prosper and will find itself at a competitive disadvantage.”

Workforce housing is defined as the supply of housing in a community that meets the needs of the workforce in that community. In the released report, housing is considered affordable for renting families that earn up to 60 percent of the area’s median income, and affordable for owning families that earn up to 120 percent of the median income.

The report, “Falling Behind,” authored by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of urban and regional planning Dr. Kurt Paulsen, Ph.D., AICP, highlights three main causes of the workforce housing shortage. These include:

  • Not building enough homes to keep up with population and income growth.
  • Construction costs outpacing inflation and incomes.
  • Outdated land use regulations that significantly drive up the cost of housing

The results of these root causes of the workforce housing shortage bring about the following results:

  • Housing costs on the rise.
  • A severe decline in homeownership. 
  • A continued decline in overall housing affordability.

The report outlines a number of goals including building more housing, increasing housing choice diversity, rebuilding and strengthening homeownership, reinvesting in older housing stock and neighborhoods, and making housing a priority.

The WRA’s “Falling Behind” report can be read online at

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