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As he travels the state in his new job, Basford said he hears a common theme.

“I thought I’d be finding out about a lot of differences,” he said. “I’m surprised by the number of similarities. Everybody has the same issue – housing, particularly for those making less than 30 percent of county median income.”

In a recent 40-page report, the Wisconsin Realtors Association outlined a shortage of low-cost housing that has many dimensions. The state, when compared to its neighbors, has the highest rate of extreme rental cost burden for lower-income families and the second-highest rate of extreme cost burden for low-income homeowners.

“We have an affordable housing crisis,” said Subeck.

In 2009, the Legislature allowed cities to keep tax incremental financing districts that were set to close, open for an extra year, with the revenue available for low-cost housing efforts.

But rising construction costs and difficulties getting financing are making it harder to subsidize housing, especially for those with lower incomes, WHEDA executive director Joaquin Altoro said. Rents at 30 percent of a county’s median income, don’t cover costs to operate housing developments, he and others said.

Also, lower-income developments sometimes face neighborhood opposition, while vouchers and rental subsidies are becoming more scarce.

“It’s going to take partnerships to the extent we’ve never seen between the state, counties, municipalities and private developers,” said Basford. “We have to get private developers to buy into putting their work into this housing. We have to increase incentives. What that exactly means, I don’t know yet.”

Steineke, perhaps the Legislature’s strongest voice on homelessness, says he thinks people have to be open to different ideas.

While more housing is critical, it must also be combined with support services to be effective.

While the pending legislation would deliver $800,000 for prevention and diversion, the state’s landlord-tenant laws remain a big factor driving homelessness in the state, advocates say.

In the past eight years, landlord-friendly changes to state laws, have given Wisconsin housing providers more power to reject prospective tenants, and easier ways to oust current ones. With a scarcity of low-cost housing, those with spotty housing or credit histories, convictions or evictions – even if they have income or jobs – struggle to secure housing.

“I absolutely believe we have to revisit tenant-landlord law,” said Basford.

Volk agreed, adding that he’s not sure what changes might look like, but believes there must be incentives to get housing providers to the table.

Much of what happens next rests on leadership and, in a divided government, bipartisanship.

“Addressing homelessness and housing insecurity has been, and continues, to be, among my administration’s top priorities,” said Evers. “We’ve demonstrated since day one, our willingness to work with Republicans to end homelessness as we know it in Wisconsin. I think it’s incredibly important for me as governor, to set the tone that this is a critical issue, which requires all hands on deck, and that it is an issue I intend to lead on.”

In July, Evers, Basford, and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, announced $500,000 – funds available annually – could be had for “shovel ready” projects to help fight homelessness. The state received 44 responses, with requests of $3 million and in August, the council awarded the $500,000 to 13 projects across the state.

“We see homelessness,” said Steinke. “We see the problem. Everybody’s got similar goals, just different approaches in accomplishing them. “We can’t just throw a bunch of money around and hope it will solve the problem. We have to prove concepts and that they are having a lasting effect.”

Volk, who also said good metrics are crucial in determining how to spend taxpayer dollars, said homelessness is the rare issue that should attract bipartisan support.

“The people of Wisconsin, are a decent and caring people, and they will demand that our politicians not play partisan games with people and children living outside, in the depth of a Wisconsin winter,” said Volk. “They will demand that they come together on a bipartisan basis, to work together to end homelessness in Wisconsin.”