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Local coalition uses education as ‘first step’ in housing crisis

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Housing NOW aims to work towards addressing the area’s housing shortage through their public education campaign, “Say Yes to Housing!” Stock photo

By Melanie Rossi

Contributing Writer

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – A coalition formed from business organizations in northeast Wisconsin, Housing NOW aims to work towards addressing the area’s housing shortage through their public education campaign, “Say Yes to Housing!”

Spearheaded by the Realtors Association of Northeast Wisconsin (RANW), the coalition “consists of major business organizations in the area” that “represent different segments of the business community,” Jennifer Sunstrom, director of public relations and government affairs for RANW, said.

“Universally, for a while now, a lot of these organizations… have been hearing that the lack of…  housing options that are affordable to their workers is creating a major barrier for them in being able to both fill vacant job positions and to be able to sometimes retain the workers that they have.

So, hearing and having these conversations for even a couple of years now about the growing concern about housing in the business community, it seemed like a natural thing to bring these organizations together under this umbrella of fair concern on housing.”

Based on the information found in several statewide and local studies, Housing NOW identified public education as the necessary first step towards addressing the housing crisis.

“As we look at the local level — what we can do at the local level — all of the things that can be done are never really going to take hold if the public isn’t behind them,” Sunstrom said.

To raise this awareness, Housing Now’s 12-week education campaign will consist of four different Facebook ads, as well as a 30-second Youtube video, each focusing on one of four major points.

“The first message is trying to help the public understand how severe our housing shortage is, the urgency behind it,” Sunstrom said. “Unless someone is really, right now, actively looking to try and find a home or an apartment, or someone close to them is, I don’t think that they really understand how dire the situation is.”

The second message aims to teach audiences about the various types of people who are impacted by the housing shortage.

“Sometimes, I think in the public’s mind, they think that the only people who are really struggling to find housing that they can afford are the lowest income individuals,” Sunstrom said. “And the truth of the matter is that this problem has grown to the extent that people who normally never would have had a big problem… finding their first home that they can afford now are having significant difficulty.”

She continued, “The third message of our campaign is tied to that — that our businesses and employers are having difficulty getting workers to fill vacant jobs. Now employers are starting to identify that one of the major issues for them in recruiting workers and retaining them is the lack of supply of housing that their employees can afford.”

To educate on these effects, the campaign’s ads will include statistics which highlight Wisconsin’s lack of migration and decreased job creation, both of which negatively impact businesses looking to fill vacant positions.

“There are a finite pool of workers in this country that everybody is kind of competing for, and Wisconsin can’t compete for those workers if we don’t have housing for them,” Sunstrom said.

Housing NOW’s final point focuses on “getting the public to accept and understand that the solutions to get us out of here are going to be doing housing differently than what we normally see,” she added.

“The way that we’ve always done it is not going to solve this problem; we’ve got to significantly increase housing units and lots. . . That means higher density, smaller lots. . .  It means more diversity in housing options, from townhomes and duplexes, condominiums, fourplexes and more units in apartment buildings.”

Each boosted ad will lead viewers to Housing NOW’s website and Facebook page which contain more information, statistics and paths towards solutions.

“Eventually, we would like to have sample letters and talking points, for whether you own your own business or are just a worker or regular citizen in the community, to reach out to public officials and tell your story, about whether your employees are struggling to find housing, or whether you as an individual… and to give people kind of a template to use in that public dialogue.”

The coalition also plans to provide the opportunity for citizens to sign up for housing updates on their website so that they can show up to support those projects.

“Right now, the only people who show up are the people who want to oppose them,” Sunstrom said.

To learn more, visit their Facebook at housingnowcoalitionNEWI.

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