Low-Income Housing in Madison

“I moved out of Chicago to come here to have a better life,” Nikki Johnson said as she watched her daughter color her favorite cartoon character.  


Johnson lives in a low-income apartment building with her two-year old daughter.


Johnson was in need of affordable housing quickly after her hours were cut at her job. She was trying to pay her $800 a month rent payment each month.


Affordable housing in Madison (Charlene Monay Robinson/Madison Commons)Affordable housing in Madison (Charlene Monay Robinson/Madison Commons)

“I applied to a lot of low-income places. I only made $10 an hour at the time and rent in Madison is extremely expensive,” Johnson said.  


In just a little bit over a year, Johnson heard back about an opening for a two-bedroom apartment building which accepted Section 8 vouchers.  


Section 8 is a federally funded Housing Choice Voucher program in which the CDA pays a portion of the rent for recipients. More information about the CDA and the Section 8 program can be found at https://www.cityofmadison.com/dpced/housing/section-8/318/.   


Samuel Roberts also left Chicago and has been in Madison since 1996.


“I quit a 17-year job to help my mom because I don’t want to see her go into a nursing home,” Roberts said.  


His mom is 78 years old and she has multiple sclerosis. Roberts moved his mom from Chicago to Madison with a Section 8 voucher.   


Roberts’s main goal is to take care of his mom in a decent neighborhood. He says that Section 8 housing is located in crime-ridden areas.  


“I would love to live in a nice quiet decent neighborhood and ya know with all of the riff raff going on,” Roberts said.  


Affordable housing is becoming harder and harder for low-income families to find throughout the city of Madison.


The City of Madison’s Community Development Authority Housing Operations Division, also known as the CDA, works to provide low-income housing that is federally funded.  


Artwork near affordable housing units (Charlene Monay Robinson/Madison Commons)Artwork near affordable housing units (Charlene Monay Robinson/Madison Commons)

According to the City of Madison, “To be eligible for a CDA Housing program, an applicant must have an income at or below HUD-specific income limits.” Income limits can be found at https://www.cityofmadison.com/dpced/housing/income-limits/1657/.   


A new process has been created to obtain Section 8 vouchers in Madison, according to the city’s Section 8 supervisor, Thomas Conrad.


Names are picked from the waiting list through a new lottery; which was last opened in 2014. 1,000 names were pulled and only some people were issued vouchers.


“In 2014 we put together the lottery to have current applicants on file, so we issued about 150 vouchers in 2015 so we got 150 families off the waiting list,” Conrad said.  


People are now able to enter a lottery in order to receive an application. The lottery is opened only when the waiting list is getting too low.  


In order for people to enter the lottery, they provide their name, social security number and contact online.


Michael Bruce works with various families each day to assist them in the hunt for finding housing that is affordable.

 Bruce works for Joining Forces for Families, a Dane County program that places social workers in neighborhoods with the greatest needs.  


Bruce says that there are a lot of programs that exist to help these families but, “the sort of equation between the need for something and the amount of resources is out of whack.”  


Families have the option of calling United Way, but most of the time they are given multiple numbers to call and people to contact.  


They receive little to no help because there is such a high demand.  


Although securing affordable housing in Madison is difficult, the city is making strides towards increasing housing options according to Matt Wachter, Housing Initiatives Specialist for the CDA.    


The City of Madison has created an affordable housing fund of a $20-25-million-dollars, investing in a greater amount of housing for low-income households.  


The State of Wisconsin has the “Section 42 tax credit” program which allows for funds to be administered for affordable housing. The taxes pay for 75% of construction.  


Each summer the city asks for proposals which allow for developers to create affordable housing.  


The developers are requested to include mixed income development with units that are low-income, 1-3 bedrooms and to partner with a non-profit service provider who can provide case management or support services for the low-income populations.  


There are also preferred areas of the city that have a 7 day a week bus service and are richer in amenities like grocery stores, libraries, community centers, “all of those things that non-profit providers tell us are important for people to be successful,” according to Wachter.  


So far the program has gotten 200-250 units approved and funded.  


Nikki Johnson does not plan on staying on Section 8 for long and is making strides to pursue her goal of owning a home.  


Johnson says she feels blessed and thankful to have been issued a Section 8 voucher since she was out of a job for six months.  


She thinks there are a lot of other people that need it more than she does, therefore she wants to make sure she accomplishes her goal.  


“I plan on within the next 2 years being off of it…..I want to own a home and that is kind of what Section 8 was made for,” Johnson said.