HUD Selects City of Madison Community Development Authority’s Bjarnes Romnes Apartments as Study Area for the Annual Innovation in Affordable Housing Student Design and Planning Competition


The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) selected the City of Madison Community Development Authority (CDA) to be the partnering public housing agency for the 11th annual Innovation in Affordable Housing (IAH) Student Design and Planning Competition. The CDA applied to host the competition and identified the Bjarnes Romnes Apartments site, 540 W. Olin Avenue as the project study area.  HUD selected the CDA to be the host agency through a nationwide competitive application process.


Each year, HUD's Innovation in Affordable Housing competition invites graduate students enrolled in accredited educational institutions in the United States to form multi-disciplinary teams to respond to an existing affordable housing design and planning issue. The competition requires teams composed of graduate students in architecture, planning and policy, finance, and other areas to address social, economic, environmental, design, financial, and construction issues in addition to an affordable housing design challenge. 

The Madison CDA currently owns and operates the Romnes Apartments, a 169-unit public housing building on a 7-acre site opened in 1968. As the two-story, horseshoe-shaped structure would likely face overwhelming rehabilitation and modernization costs in its existing form, CDA expects that it may be most cost-effective to ultimately demolish the facility and replace it with one or more buildings on the same site that would provide improved resident amenities, sustainable and climate-friendly design features, and operational efficiencies. 

The expansive Romnes parcel could eventually accommodate a moderately dense, mixed-income community that will welcome existing Romnes residents to move into new affordable units on site as well as the inclusion of additional affordable and workforce housing units beyond the replacement HUD-supported units. To accomplish this vision, IAH student teams will develop project proposals that include both multifamily rental developments and affordable homeownership opportunities, as well as urban design recommendations to connect the site to the surrounding Bay Creek neighborhood

After the submission of initial proposals in January 2024, four student team finalists will advance to the second round of the competition. These finalist teams will visit the Romnes site in Madison to further refine their submissions. In April 2024, the four teams will present their final projects to a jury of housing professionals and subject matter experts at HUD Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“Secure housing is the foundation of public health, well-being and community,” Mayor Satya-Rhodes Conway said. “The tremendous growth we’ve seen in Madison has put pressure on the housing market, and it’s critical that it remains inviting and accessible to everybody. The City and CDA are excited to host the IAH student finalist teams and welcome creative, actionable approaches from future practitioners to help meet the City’s affordable housing needs.”

CDA staff and consultants may use the IAH student team proposals to further evaluate the long-term future of Romnes and strategies for CDA holdings to help alleviate Madison’s persistent affordable housing shortage. While there are no current plans to replace Romnes within the next five years, the IAH student team recommendations will be insightful as CDA considers its options to best serve residents at housing sites throughout the City of Madison. 

HUD strongly encourages public housing authorities to redevelop functionally obsolete housing sites with modern facilities through its Section 18 and Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) programs. CDA is now evaluating its entire portfolio for opportunities to rebuild or significantly rehabilitate all of its traditional Public and Multifamily Housing through these HUD repositioning programs in the coming years. 

Redevelopment planning and implementation is already underway for the entirety of CDA’s largest housing site, known as the Triangle, with the first phase of construction anticipated to begin in 2025 and overall project completion within approximately 5-8 years. CDA staff envision initiating a similar pre-development planning process for Romnes in the coming years, including significant resident and neighborhood stakeholder engagement, as construction progresses at the Triangle and the CDA Redevelopment agency develops a broader portfolio repositioning strategy.

The CDA Housing Operations Division works in conjunction with the City of Madison to administer HUD low-income subsidized housing within city limits. The CDA owns and operates 742 units of Public Housing and 115 units of Multifamily Housing for families, seniors, and people with disabilities. CDA Housing includes apartment buildings, townhouses, duplexes, single-family homes, and barrier-free units for physically disabled persons.

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