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UW-Milwaukee - Center for Economic Development

Policy Research Report Abstract

Housing and Community in South Madison: Local Residents' Viewpoints and Experiences, April 2007, by Andrea Robles, Jodi Wortsman, and Ariel Kaufman

Executive Summary

This report is based on a participatory research project conducted in the Bram's Addition and Burr Oaks neighborhoods, located in the Southside of Madison, Wisconsin. The research team was mainly comprised of individuals with connections to South Madison with a few additional members from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). The main goal of the research was to achieve an understanding of the housing situation and the neighborhoods from multiple perspectives and to develop suggestions to improve the neighborhood and housing situation that reflect the concerns of the community.

The research team hopes that by sharing this information, other community members, organizations, and local governmental officials and staff will become their partners in learning, discussing, and working to make the necessary changes that will improve the housing situation for homeowners, tenants, and landlords and address existing issues affecting the neighborhoods.

This executive summary includes highlights of the findings and suggestions. Please turn to the individual chapters for a more detailed discussion and the last section of chapters 2, 3, and 4 for a full explanation of each of the following suggestions. Also, see chapter 5 for ideas on future research.


The project context

  • Park Street, which is considered the "Main Street" of the Southside, intersects other arterial streets and the Beltline Highway to connect commuters with destinations throughout Madison and the outlying communities. On the one hand, living along the corridor is an excellent location because of its close proximity to major destinations and local shops that reflect the diverse international community. On the other hand, living along the corridor can be difficult because Park Street is a six lane state highway that has traffic volumes ranging from 20,000 to 48,000 cars per day depending on the location. This corridor has become a barrier between the west and east portions of South Madison and both the traffic and the man-made barrier are constantly cited as concerns in the community.
  • South Madison has a diverse ethnic population. In addition, this area is economically disadvantaged. As compared to the rest of Madison, housing in South Madison is less expensive and it has a different mix of housing types and ownership arrangements. For example, in 2000 this census area had a median value of $96,900 for an owner-occupied home as compared to $139,300 for the City of Madison.

The housing issue

  • Between 2000 and 2001, South Madison residents expressed concerns about the status of the housing stock and affordability due to the anticipated changes proposed for the Park Street corridor and South Madison. Mainly their concerns focused on how revitalization efforts may drive up prices, taxes, and rents, thus, making rent or the purchase of a home unaffordable. Also, South Madison residents expressed concerns regarding past revitalization efforts where they believed that community members had little voice or influence in the planning.
  • In order to address community concerns and increase involvement of local residents in the revitalization efforts, South Metropolitan Planning Council (SMPC) collaborated with University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) to develop community teams. The first community team to be developed focused on housing issues due to residents' concerns that a consequence of the revitalization would be a loss of affordable housing. In order to understand this situation better, the community team engaged in this participatory research project, South Madison Housing Stories and Experiences, to gather more information on the housing issue. The goals were to include residents in the research process, thoroughly and systematically collect information about housing from a variety of perspectives, and use this information to develop a workable action plan for housing stock and policies that reflect the concerns and interests of the South Madison community.
  • The research team members were mainly local residents representing a broad range of backgrounds (e.g. economic, homeowner or tenant, culture, age). With the assistance of a trainer and facilitator, they constructed two questionnaires: one for tenants and another for homeowners that included both open-ended and closed-ended questions. After systematically selecting blocks in the neighborhoods of Bram's Addition and Burr Oaks (Town of Madison and City of Madison), the research team conducted door-to-door interviews with 109 residents (72 homeowners and 39 tenants) living in single-family units or in buildings with 4 units or fewer. Both quantitative and qualitative analysis was conducted on the information gathered.

Bram's Addition and Burr Oaks Neighborhoods: Positive Attributes and Challenges

The qualities of the neighborhood affect how residents perceive their overall housing situation; therefore, the research team thought it was important to include questions about the neighborhood in this project.

Neighbors' viewpoints

Social aspects
  • Sense of community and good neighbors. A sense of community is the most common reason homeowners (53%) and tenants (54%) in Bram's Addition and Burr Oaks neighborhoods stated for liking their community. The positive interactions residents had with their neighbors were an important component in their upbeat perceptions towards their community. Yet, some residents felt that there was a need to improve relations both among community members and between outsiders (i.e. strangers, visitors) and local residents. Furthermore, residents believed that the greater Madison community has a negative perception of South Madison and thinks of the area as an undesirable place to live.
    Suggestions to improve community relations
    • Sponsor more activities that increase communication and build relationships.
    • Build shared leadership and collective ownership of public issues.
  • Shared personal and cultural background and diversity. One of the major reasons homeowners and tenants moved into the Bram's Addition and Burr Oaks neighborhoods was that they had either personal or cultural ties with other residents. This was commonly expressed by homeowners (33%) and tenants (35%). On the other side of the coin, far fewer people mentioned that diversity, in terms of residents' differing cultural and economic backgrounds, was a reason for moving here and continuing to live here.
  • Safety and neighborhood disturbances. The main concern residents had about their neighborhood was safety and neighborhood disturbances. Fifty-three percent of homeowners and 52% of tenants mentioned issues of safety and neighborhood disturbances as aspects of what they did not like about their neighborhood. The percentage of residents concerned about safety was roughly similar across neighborhoods. Within each neighborhood, however, the degree of concern varied.

    A few residents mentioned that South Madison's negative image may be playing a role in terms of encouraging crime. A few other residents mentioned that their neighborhood was safe and calm and that South Madison's reputation of having a high crime rate was more a perception than reality.
    Suggestions to increase safety
    • Improve communication and collaboration between police officers and residents.
    • Increase pedestrian safety.
    • Improve South Madison's image.
Physical aspects
  • Accessibility to neighborhood amenities and work. The neighborhoods' location with its accessibility to local and citywide amenities and employment was a key reason that homeowners and tenants moved to and stayed in South Madison. Some residents mentioned the need for more public spaces, businesses, and services. Location is important in terms of neighborhood amenities, but also in terms of commuting distance to work. More than 60% of residents said that it took them 15 minutes or less to get to work. An interesting finding was that even though public transportation is accessible on nearby Park Street, over 70% of respondents said that they used a car to commute to work. Community members believed that not only is distance to work important, but also creating local employment opportunities.
    Suggestions to increase amenities and economic development
    • Assess neighborhood programs and resources.
    • Increase number and variety of employment opportunities available in the area to support the diverse workforce.
  • Affordable housing. Residents stated that available housing that they can afford was an important reason they moved to these neighborhoods. Residents said they moved here because of the cheaper rent, affordable homes, or the lack of income to move anywhere else.
    Suggestions for maintaining affordable housing in the community
    • Develop strategies to ensure that quality and affordable housing is available in South Madison.
    • Additional housing suggestions in chapters 3 and 4.
  • Physical maintenance and upkeep. After safety, a common response regarding what residents in Bram's Addition (22%) and Burr Oaks (18%) neighborhoods did not like about their communities was the lack of physical maintenance and upkeep; this included private homes as well as public spaces.
    Suggestion to improve physical maintenance and upkeep
    • Assess and increase use of current information and programs.

Revitalization and its possible consequences

  • Revitalization works to increase community well-being through efforts that focus on land use, transportation, urban design, and economic and community development. There are several plans to improve the Park Street corridor and the surrounding neighborhoods. The revitalization of Park Street and the South Madison neighborhoods has been an ongoing issue; thus, the research team decided it would include some questions that focus on this topic.
  • Twenty-eight percent of homeowners and 63% of tenants stated they did not know about the revitalization or they had no response to the question "Do you know about the revitalization plans in South Madison?" Furthermore, 53% of Burr Oaks residents interviewed did not know about or had no response to the revitalization question, while only 29% of Bram's Addition residents did not know about or had no response. Those who did have knowledge of the revitalization plans had both positive and negative views. The positive views of revitalization included development of businesses, more employment opportunities, improved image, higher property values, and better public amenities. The negative views focused on the increase in housing prices and taxes that may drive some residents, especially low-income and the elderly, out of the neighborhoods.
    Suggestion to increase knowledge and involvement in revitalization plans
    • Improve outreach and engagement regarding revitalization.


Homeowners' backgrounds

  • South Madison roots. More than half of homeowners have lived in South Madison for over 11 years. When the research team asked homeowners how long they have owned their current home, as many as 40% responded that they had owned their homes for more than 11 years. All homeowners, no matter how many years they had already lived in the area, shared that stability was important to them. Almost two-thirds (62%) commented that they were planning to be in their homes for the long-term (i.e. more than 6 years).
  • Homeowners' living situation. The majority of homeowners lived in dwellings that had 2 or more bedrooms. Most commonly, homeowners had households of either 2 to 3 people or 4 to 5 people. The living situation of homeowners' varied by race and ethnicity. For example, whereas some Whites and African-Americans resided alone, no Latinos/Hispanics or Asians did. In terms of housing costs, at least 57% of homeowners were spending more than 30% of their income towards housing costs, thus, not meeting the standard definition of owning an affordable home.
    Suggestions to assist homeowners for staying in their homes for the long-term
    • Assess property tax assistance program.

Home buying process

  • Home buying assistance and programs. Almost all homeowners (96%) mentioned receiving some form of support or assistance when buying their homes; however, the type of assistance and support received varied. Types of support and assistance included government and nonprofit programs, businesses (e.g. real estate agents, bankers, mortgage companies), and personal acquaintances. These areas of support were not exclusive; individuals often received multiple forms of assistance in their purchase of a home.
  • Accessing and utilizing home buying programs. This study found that the various demographic groups accessed and utilized different forms of assistance. For example, nonprofit and government programs that offer financial assistance were used fewer times by residents who have less than a college education and were not used at all by Asian respondents.
  • Home buying challenges. Nineteen percent of homeowners mentioned facing some difficulties with the home buying process including their prior financial situation, locating and accessing programs and lenders, receiving misleading information, and unexpected problems (e.g. legal issue). Almost half of those who experienced difficulties mentioned facing some form of race or class based discrimination when purchasing their homes.
    Suggestions on how to support individuals through the home buying process
    1. Increase the accessibility of the home buying process and assistance programs:
      • develop and promote a clearinghouse for home buying materials, and
      • increase mentoring of homebuyers.
    2. Assess current programs, assistance, and problems:
      • assess current home buying programs and first time home buying seminars for effectiveness and awareness in community, and
      • assess what assistance is useful to homebuyers.
    3. Increase residents' knowledge on issues of housing rights to address discrimination.

Home improvements

  • Types of home improvements. The majority of homeowners, 84%, made improvements to their residence. These improvements included either work on the interior, exterior, or both.
  • Abilities and resources. For many homeowners, home maintenance was one of the more difficult aspects of owning a home. There were some differences in terms of demographic characteristics and home maintenance in terms of the level of difficulty in terms of skills, time, money for current repairs, and long-term budgeting.
  • Maintenace programs. Though maintenance was one of the major difficulties of homeownership, the majority of homeowners (73%) did not know about or utilize any programs. There were differences in terms of who knew about and utilized programs. For example, women knew of and used these programs more than men and homeowners with some college education or an associate's degree knew of and utilized these programs more than homeowners with other education levels.
    Suggestions on how to support home maintenance
    1. Make home maintenance programs more accessible to homeowners:
      • assess effectiveness and increase outreach of home maintenance programs,
      • develop and promote a clearinghouse for home maintenance programs,
      • connect community members to home repair assistance, and
      • increase knowledge of weatherproofing program that will lower utility costs.
    2. Create more opportunities for skill acquisition:
      • create and make available classes that teach home repair skills,
      • create more opportunities for local residents to share their skills with their neighbors, and
      • create a tool lending library.


Tenants' background

  • South Madison roots. As with homeowners, some tenants moved to these neighborhoods because they had a history with South Madison through having grown up in the community or had family and friends living in the neighborhoods and in other nearby locations. Even so, more than half (56%) of tenants were relative newcomers in that they had lived in South Madison for less than 5 years. The majority of tenants (84%) had lived in their present home for less than 4 years.
  • Tenants' living situation. Most tenants interviewed rented from private owners with whom they have no relation. The majority of tenants lived in dwellings that had 2 or more bedrooms. Though a few tenants lived by themselves, most shared their residence with family members, friends, and others. More than half had 2 to 3 people living in their homes. There was a variation in number of people per household by race and ethnicity. For example, whereas most Whites and African-Americans resided in 2 or 3 person households, Latinos/Hispanics and Asians were more likely to live in larger sized households of 4 persons or more. At least 55% of tenants were spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs; thus, they were not meeting the standard definition of renting a unit that is considered affordable.
  • Challenges with the rental process. Though South Madison has historically lower rental prices than other sections of Madison, some tenants still had a difficult time affording rent. However, only 15% of tenants reported receiving special assistance to rent their home. Seventeen percent of tenants reported encountering some form of discrimination when they tried renting in South Madison.
    Suggestions to improve tenants present living situation
    1. Increase and maintain quality housing that is affordable in the community:
      • assess effectiveness and awareness of rental assistance programs that currently exist,
      • increase knowledge of existing programs and create opportunities that can assist tenants in reducing costs,
      • include mix of housing in future revitalization that is energy efficient and could increase community connections, and
      • create opportunities for South Madison organizations to connect.
    2. Create more opportunities for tenants to be part of the community.

Maintenance schedule and repairs

  • Maintenance schedules. Based on tenants' responses, the research team found that landlords had different maintenance schedules. Fifty-nine percent of landlords of buildings with 4 units four or less had a regular maintenance schedule and checked on their property weekly, monthly, or a few times a year, while 41% of these landlords did not have a regular maintenance schedule. Landlords kept more of a routine maintenance schedule for buildings with 4 units or fewer than single-family units. Seventy five percent of tenants living in buildings with 4 units or fewer reported that landlords had a routine maintenance schedule as compared to 38% of those living in single-family units.
  • Types of repairs and timeliness. Almost three quarters of tenants had requested a repair. The most common repair that tenants requested was plumbing, followed by electrical issues and lights, problems with appliances, and other issues such as a roof. Of tenants who requested a repair, landlords responded in the following ways: 42% responded between a few hours to less than a week, 23% responded between one week to one month, 16% took more than one month to respond, and 8% never responded.

Tenant and landlord relations

  • Frequency of communication. All tenants mentioned that they talked with their landlords, though the levels of communication differed. A majority of tenants (59%) reported communicating with their landlords more than once a month.
  • Dealing with special situations - late rent payment. The majority of tenants (81%) knew about their late rent policies that included calling the landlord to say they will be late, paying an additional fee, and being evicted after 5 days of non-payment. Eighty-six percent of tenants mentioned that landlords would work with them if they were late on a rent payment.
  • Quality of the relationship with the landlord. Forty one percent of tenants mentioned they had an excellent relationship with their landlord, 16% said very good, 35% said good, 0% said poor, and 8% said very poor. Tenants rated the quality of their relationships with their landlords higher the less time it took to do repairs, and if tenants perceived that the repairs were completed in a timely manner. In addition, tenants also rated relationships higher if they believed that their landlords would work with them in special situations.
    Suggestions on how to improve landlord and tenant relations
    • Conduct more research with landlords to understand their perspectives and experiences.
    • Ensure that a tenant has a clear understanding of their landlord's rules and responsibilities.
    • Increase presence and usage of the Tenant Resource Center and other tenant focused organizations.

Tenants' perceptions and experiences with home buying

  • Considered buying a home. Three-quarters of the tenants interviewed (76%) expressed that they had at some point considered the purchase of a home. Upon examining demographic characteristics in terms of who considered buying, the most significant factor that contributed to whether tenants had considered buying a home was race and ethnicity. Whites and African Americans were more likely to have considered home buying than Latinos/Hispanics and Asians.
  • Financial obstacles. Of those tenants who had considered buying a home, 85% faced financial obstacles, mainly insufficient income (e.g. lack of a down payment, problems accessing financing, unstable job). The remaining 15% faced other obstacles including high housing prices in the local neighborhoods and in Madison, and not wanting the responsibilities that accompany owning a home (e.g. maintenance and repairs).
  • Knowledge of home buying programs. Slightly more than half the tenants (56%) knew of some type of home buying program. The most significant factors that contributed to whether tenants knew of home buying programs were the neighborhoods, type of current housing, gender, and race and ethnicity. Education was also an important factor.
    Suggestions on how to support home buying for tenants
    • Increase opportunities for South Madison residents to develop knowledge of home buying process and create connections with programs and housing representatives.


Major themes

Affordable housing
  • Many housing organizations consider a unit to be affordable if it costs no more than 30% of an individual's or household's gross income. For homeowners, this 30% includes mortgage payments, homeowners insurance, taxes, and utilities, while for renters it includes rent and utilities. According to the residents interviewed for this study, 59% of them (60% of homeowners and 56% of tenants) spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs; thus, they did not have housing units that met the standard definition of affordable. The affordability of a unit can change over time for an individual household.
  • After analyzing the findings from this project, the research team believed that the discussion of affordability should include factors such as the quality of the housing stock (e.g. necessary repairs and maintenance) and the changing economic situation of a community and surrounding areas (e.g. revitalization). For example, if housing stock is in poor condition, it may need major repairs that require substantial funds that may prevent a household from creating a sustainable housing budget. These factors can play a vital role in residents' ability to afford and maintain their home in the long-run.
Tenant and landlord relations
  • Considering that a major benefit of renting is that landlords, rather than tenants, have the responsibility for maintenance, the length of time it took to complete repairs and the timeliness of repairs is an important component in a renter's overall perspective of their housing situation. Tenants were more satisfied with their overall living conditions if their landlord responded to their repair requests in a timely manner and worked with them in special circumstances.
Importance of neighborhoods
  • The neighborhood and its positive and negative attributes are important components of how residents view their general housing and living situation. Bram's Addition and Burr Oaks neighborhoods include qualities that Jane Jacobs (1961), New Urbanists, and many others believe contribute to the production of good and livable communities. Homeowners and tenants stated that the qualities they appreciated about their neighborhoods were a sense of community and good neighbors, shared personal and cultural background and diversity, access to neighborhood amenities and work, and affordable housing.
  • They also expressed concerns they feel need to be addressed to improve the livability of the area. Some areas they feel need to be improved are community relations, safety, and physical maintenance and upkeep of private and public spaces. They also mentioned the importance of economic development and affordable and quality housing.
Next steps and future research
  • The main goal of this research was to get an understanding of the housing situation and the neighborhoods from multiple perspectives and to develop recommendations and action plans that reflect the concerns of the community. During this whole endeavor, the research team has worked to build partnerships with organizations, community members, and other stakeholders. Building partnerships will continue in the following phases. The next step involves disseminating information that will allow research team members to present their findings, request feedback, and invite collaboration. Local organizations have already expressed interest in hearing the research findings and recommendations.
  • The development of action plans and the target recommendations implemented will depend on the interests of the collaborating partners, feedback from the findings, available support, and importance to the community.
  • From the research process and analysis, the research team identified other actions and several topics that could be of interest for further investigation. One possibility would be to develop a participatory research center in South Madison where local residents could offer their expertise about the local conditions and suggest research ideas to and receive training and support from faculty and students. Other topics are listed and explained in Chapter 5 and include learn about the relationships that exist across racial and ethnic groups, better understand tenant and landlord relations from landlords' perspectives, increase understanding of tenants in rental buildings larger than 4 units, and gain an understanding of the obstacles residents face for staying in the homes in the long- term.

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