Public gives input on Rhinelander housing needs
Study results to be presented in September
By Eileen Persike
In effort to better understand the city of Rhinelander’s housing needs and learn how to move forward, the city is undertaking a housing study. MSA Professional Services, contracted by the city to lead the study and draft a final report, held two housing needs open house meetings recently to begin gathering public input.
“We had a great turnout with a cross section of the community participating in the two public forums, which we were really pleased with,” said city administrator Zach Vruwink. “And we’re going to follow up with folks who have registered their interest but were unable to attend.”
Project manager Becky Binz explained the study will be looking at three things: What kind of housing the city has; what kind of housing is needed; and what the city should be doing to get the kind of housing that it needs and may not have now or in the future.
Vruwink and Binz are currently reviewing data, some of which Binz shared.
-67% of housing stock in Rhinelander is single-unit detached, fewer than surrounding towns (91%) but similar to similar sized municipalities.
-In 2010 there was a 50/50 split between rentals and owner-occupied; in 2019 that shifted to 40/60.
-The city is seeing a population decrease while surrounding towns and the county are projected to see a slight population increase shows that people are moving here.
“What this is saying to me is there is an opportunity, with the right housing, the right amenities to attract people to live in Rhinelander who are moving to the area,” said Binz.
The renter-occupied units and owner-occupied units are fairly evenly distributed throughout the city, Binz noted. “There aren’t any clusters of one or the other so that’s a good sign, something we like to see when we think about building healthy communities with a variety of housing options throughout.”
Having a balanced housing market in Rhinelander, where the supply is able to meet the demand, is the main goal of the study. An important part of the housing demand is income, Binz noted, because that indicates what is affordable to a household in Rhinelander.
The data studied to this point show there are many “cost burdened” households in city, including homeowners and renters. Cost burdened households are those paying more than 30% of their gross income toward their housing costs. The cost to own information gathered show that since 2010 ownership options in the city have generally been affordable to the median income earner in Rhinelander.
“However, data show that about a quarter of owner-occupied households (23.3%) are still cost burdened, so despite the lower priced homes, there are still homeowners who are paying more than 30% of their gross income toward housing costs, which is something that is of concern,” Binz said.
The cost to rent has been above what is technically affordable for the median income earner in Rhinelander, which is something Binz said, “To remember and keep an eye on.”
Between 2010 and 2019, the median rental cost has seen a 31% increase. In Rhinelander, 39% of renter-occupied households are paying more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs, compared to 22% of renters in the surrounding towns.
Also notable, Binz said, is that the median monthly rent in Rhinelander is $799, which is higher than the cities of Tomahawk, Wausau, Merrill, surrounding towns and Oneida County.
Vruwink said he expects the report to provide actionable steps and strategies for the city to undertake.
“We know that Rhinelander is underserved when it comes to available housing options and that’s across the spectrum,” he said. “We’ll need to study it to get our arms around the whole totality of the concern and I think this study will inform us with much better strategies to pursue.”
Visit rhinelandercityhall.org to view the housing needs assessment presentation in its entirety.