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City of Madison enacts development ‘bonus’ for affordable housing downtown

On Tuesday, the Madison Common Council adopted legislation allowing developers to add additional stories to new buildings proposed in the downtown area if at least half of the added space will be dedicated for affordable housing. 

In a press release Wednesday, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and downtown alder Mike Verveer said the measure would encourage more affordable housing in the central city.

“This is a win-win program,” Rhodes-Conway said in a statement. “It helps us build more housing  downtown and ensures that at least half of the added housing from the bonus floors is affordable.  This is another tool in our toolbox to ensure everybody has housing options in Madison.” 

“This bonus may help overcome the challenges, like high downtown land costs and others, that have held some developers back from including affordable units,” Verveer said in a statement. “I hope to see more developers use this tool to increase affordable housing  downtown.” 

The additional stories must fall within downtown height limits that protect the view of the State  Capitol.

The downtown zoning code includes both a maximum building height and a mamaximu number of  stories in a building. The number of stories correlates closely with height limits in commercial  buildings, but leaves some room on the table for residential buildings that normally have shorter  floor heights than commercial buildings. The result is that residential buildings that reach the maximum number of stories rarely reach the  height limits. That is changing now with the adoption of the affordable housing “floor bonus.”  

Developers agreeing to the incentive must use at least half of the additional space for affordable  housing and maintain that affordability for at least 30 years. In cases where a developer is also  receiving City financial assistance, the number of additional units required to earn the bonus stories  would be negotiated with the City. This incentive may generate more general affordable housing  options, including some for students, downtown. 

This legislation was supported by sponsoring Alders Patrick Heck, Erik Paulson, Mike Verveer,  and Jael Currie, along with Mayor Rhodes-Conway.