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District 13

Alder Tag Evers

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Alder Tag Evers

Contact Information

Home Address:

2329 Keyes Av

Council Office

Common Council Office:
210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd
Room 417
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 266-4071
Fax: (608) 267-8669
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Alder Evers’ Blog

MLK Day, TOD Overlay, Building Energy Savings Program

January 16, 2023 5:13 PM

Greetings Friends and Neighbors,

Here are this week's updates:


"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this famous line in a sermon called "Loving Your Enemies," at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, on November 17, 1957. You can listen to King's sermon in its entirety linked here or read the text of the sermon here.

Wise words to soberly reflect upon on this day we celebrate King's birth, particularly in these divisive times.

Transit-Oriented Development Overlay

On June 1, 2021, I joined a narrow 11-9 majority to adopt changes to our zoning policy to allow for increased density by right in certain zoning districts. This policy of upzoning was criticized by local affordable housing advocates as a giveaway to developers that would do little to increase equity while distracting city leaders from the larger task of providing more affordable housing. I nonetheless co-sponsored the change and voted with the majority, recognizing the need for more housing units to address sky-rocketing rents and ever-increasing housing values. 

Planning staff forecast an increase of 100,000 residents in our city's population between 2020 and 2050. The concept of Transit-Oriented Development has been a matter of city policy going back to the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, but now Council will be voting on Tuesday for a substantial implementation of that policy in the form of a TOD Overlay

Staff had originally recommended that the TOD Overlay not include local or national historic districts, but the Transportation Policy and Planning Board and Plan Commission both voted to include these districts. The City's Historic Preservation Planner, Heather Bailey, has averred in a memo that the TOD Overlay will have little impact on the local historic districts, but could increase "development pressures" on historic properites in the national register historic districts, leading to a possible increase in demolition versus adaptive reuse. 

The development pressure Ms. Bailey is referring to is the result of the speculative impulse that drives our nation's model of housing provision. In our capitalist system, housing is not a human right, but rather something that is provided almost exclusively by the private market. Zoning is one tool cities have used to guide that development in a positive manner, one that comports with our shared values. In short, civil society has long recognized that the free, unregulated market does not sufficiently value equity and justice.

But zoning has also been a means of exclusion and has functioned as a proxy for keeping certain people out of certain neighborhoods, an extension of "redlining" by other means. In other words, zoning is a mixed bag in the planning toolkit, and one that deserves scrutiny and careful consideration.

As elected officials we are tasked with updating city policy to adapt to the needs of our growing city. When I first ran for Council four years ago, I reminded voters of our housing crisis and the concomitant need for more housing. But I also made the point that we will not be able to build our way out of this crisis. Simply removing zoning restrictions alone as a green light to developers will not result in housing justice. As Distrct 15 Alder Grant Foster noted in 2021 as he led the opposition to the upzoning policy I supported, "Pushing this forward right now on its own is not going to do that. The best thing it can possibility do is just move money in the wrong direction."

Following that vote, Alder Foster and I met several times with city staff to explore a pathway toward what other cities have done, particularly cities like Raleigh, North Carolina, which issued affordable housing bonds generating upwards of $80 million over a five year period to greatly ramp up public subsidies for the construction of much needed affordable housing. The discussions petered out with little progress, except that the Mayor did increase the line-item for the Affordable Housing Fund in her executive budget to $10 million a year, along with increased allocation of funds for land-banking. (Land banking is the process by which the city takes parcels out of the speculative real estate market and holds onto them for specific purposes often in accord with providing more affordable housing.)

I am generally in support of the TOD Overlay, which creates two paths for additional upzoning along our high-frequency transit routes: 1) more units and increased height allowances by right along the transit corridors and 2) allowing a property zoned single-family to add by right an additional unit. (ADUs, aka Accessory Dwelling Units, are already allowed by right, provided an owner remains of the property.)

But I am worried, in the words of Alder Foster, that we could be moving money in the "wrong direction." Upzoning is a form of supply-side economics -- unleash the private market to do its thing and all will be well. As Heather Bailey has stated, the TOD Overlay will likely increase "development pressures," meaning the speculative impulse will be the catalyst to drive investment capital to exploit market opportunities, leading to more rental conversions owned and operated principally by absentee landlords. The result could be the increase in housing values due to the changing value proposition in properties formerly zoned single-family with the possible decline in quality of life for residents.

Why would I suggest that an increase in absentee landlords could contribute to a decline in quality of life? While I haven't seen precise evidence, my guess is that so-called "party houses," to cite one example of a nuisance not uncommon in District 13, are rarely if ever owner-occupied. Owner-occupied dwellings provide a more stable platform for quickly dealing with or averting complaints, whereas an owner living outside of the neighborhood, and perhaps outside of the city or outside of the state, does not.

Our ADU policy, for which I was a co-sponsor, requires owner-occupancy as a basis for permission to add the additional dwelling unit. As a means of modestly dampening the speculative impulse inherent to the private real estate market, I will be advancing an amendment to the TOD Overlay policy to require the same restriction for conversion of single-family properties to duplexes. "Empy nesters" looking to stay in the neighbhorhood while paying high property taxes on a fixed income could convert their home to a duplex. Similary, a young couple buying their first home might decide the only way they can afford to do so is to convert it to a duplex and rent out the other half.

This amendment would allow for two things at once, both of which I believe are desirable: an overall increase in housing units while recognizing home ownership as a stabilizing influence within our neighborhoods. 

While we cannot build our way out of the housing crisis, it's absolutely necessary that we build more units. The TOD Overlay will add a measured increase in density along our high-frequency transit routes, which is something to be desired in a growing city facing challenges around traffic congestion and the need to do our part to reduce vehicle miles traveled in light of our present climate emergency. The TOD Overlay, with the compromise I've suggested, moves us forward in a positive direction.

Building Energy Savings Program

I recently joined Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Alders Regina Vidaver and Grant Foster introducing legislation to advance the Building Energy Savings Program (BESP). The program aims to help commercial building owners increase the energy efficiency of their buildings, save money, and reduce their carbon footprint. Cutting carbon emissions from buildings is a critical step in achieving the City of Madison's goal of reaching 100% renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions community-wide by 2050. Click here to read more.


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