Housing study finds increasing demand, rising costs, rental unit shortage, lack of diversity in region

By Jalen Maki

Tomahawk Leader Editor

NORTHERN WISCONSIN – A study of the housing sector of five northern Wisconsin counties found increasing demand, rising costs, a shortage of rental units, and a lack of housing diversity.

Population data and other information were also included in the report.

The study was conducted by the North Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (NCWRPC), in collaboration with Grow North Regional Economic Development Corporation.

NCWRPC is a “public agency dedicated to providing professional planning services to member local governments” serving Adams, Forest, Juneau, Langlade, Lincoln, Marathon, Oneida, Portage, Vilas, and Wood counties, according to its website.

Grow North is “a volunteer, private/public 501(c)(6) organization dedicated to the economic development in the eight counties known as the Northwoods of Wisconsin,” its Facebook page states.

The study focused on Lincoln, Forest, Langlade, Oneida and Vilas counties. Florence, Marinette and Oconto counties, which make up the remainder of Grow North’s footprint, were not included in the study.

Goal of study

According to the full study report, prepared by NCWRPC, the goal of the study was to “to develop a set of goals and strategies that can address housing issues within the Region by examining the current state of the region and using that information to guide goal and strategy development.”

“The study includes a demographic overview of the Region, an assessment of the Region’s housing stock and trends, and an analysis of workforce housing within the region,” the report stated. “This information will help to identify any needs, such as a need for additional housing, what types of housing are needed, and help identify which steps are needed to solve housing gaps within the Region.”

Communities experiencing ‘increasing demand, rising costs’

The report said many communities in the region are experiencing “increasing demand and rising costs for housing.”

“This makes it harder for both working class and low-income families to find suitable housing within these communities, and often leads to the outmigration of a community’s workforce and the displacement of low-income families,” the report stated.

Shortage of rental units

According to the report, there is currently a shortage of rental units, especially apartment complexes, within the Grow North Region.

Only about 21% of occupied households within the Region are renter-occupied, compared to about 33% in Wisconsin.

Household Type. Photos courtesy of NCWRPC.

Lack of housing diversity

The report noted a “lack of housing diversity within the region, as single-family housing makes up a significant portion (85%) of the region’s housing stock.”

The lack of housing diversity within the Region “negatively impacts the number of rental units available, as multi-family units are generally the main source of rental units,” according to the report.

“Low-income housing generally relies on multi-family housing units,” the report said. “This means that the Region’s lack of housing diversity also negatively impacts housing affordability, especially for low-income households.”

Housing Unit Types.


Median Value of Owner-Occupied Homes.


Median Selected Monthly Owner Costs.

Aging population

The Grow North Region has an aging population, according to the report.

“In 2019, nearly a quarter of the Region’s population consisted of individuals ages 65 and older,” the report said. “Additionally, population over the age of 65 is projected to continue to increase over the next decade. This trend indicates that the Region will have to take a number of steps to address the increasing need for more senior housing.”

Seasonal units: ‘Unique opportunities, challenges’

The report noted that the Region’s high number of seasonal units provides “unique opportunities and challenges.”

“A majority of the Region’s seasonal housing stock is privately owned,” the report stated. “Some private owners prefer not to rent out their property, while others prefer to rent it out. A lack of landlords willing to rent their property to seasonal workers poses problems for seasonal migrant employees who are only in the Region for a few months at a time.”

Market gaps

According to the report, there is a market gap for homes in the lower home price ranges within the Grow North Region, and “due to the high proportion of seasonal housing units within the Region, there are likely market gaps in some of the upper home price ranges as well.”

“These market gaps impact low-income households and employment attraction throughout the Region,” the report said.

Other report highlights

Other data and information highlighted in the report include:

  • A 4% decrease in population has occurred in the Grow North Region over the last 20 years.
  • A decrease in the population of people ages 17 and younger and an increase in the 65 and older population “will have an impact on the labor force, school system, and health care industries within the Grow North Region.”
  • Both per capita and median household incomes throughout the Region have risen over the last 30 years. Generally, the per capita incomes within the Region have grown faster than the state and national growth rates for the same time period, while median household incomes within the Region have grown at a slower rate than the state and nation. However, when adjusted for inflation these growth rates become significantly slower, with median household incomes even declining.
  • Overall, the Grow North Region has a negative net migration of workers coming into the Region for work.
  • Single-family housing is the dominant housing type within the Grow North Region. Multi-family housing comprises over 19% of the state’s housing stock, but only about 8.4% of the Region’s housing stock, indicating that the Region has a higher proportion of single-family housing than the state, and subsequently, a lower proportion of multi-family housing.
  • The median value of a home in the Region has been consistently below the median home value for the state as a whole.
  • In 2019, over 24% of all households within the Grow North Region spent more than 30% of their household income on housing, making them “cost-burdened.” In 2019, about 8% of all households within the Grow North Region spent more than 50% of their household income on housing, making them “severely cost-burdened.”

Goals, strategies

The report also listed several goals to improve the housing situation in the Region and strategies for how to achieve them.

Goal 1: Provide an adequate supply of affordable housing for individuals and households of all income levels throughout the Region.

Strategies: Increase the housing stock throughout the Region; broaden housing diversity throughout the Region (encourage development of a diverse mix of housing types and densities throughout the Region and encourage units of government to adopt and enforce housing development policies and regulations which promote a variety of housing types and cost ranges, and which do not unduly restrict housing choice for any segment of the population); ensure that an adequate supply of rental properties is available for all age groups and family sizes; and develop and redevelop the housing stock to increase median home values.

Goal 2: Increase the number of rental units within the Region.

Strategies: Encourage government units to add more multi-family housing options, especially apartment complexes, within their communities; encourage government units to consider utilizing a scattered sites concept in an effort to add more rental units to the Region; encourage government units to allow multifamily housing in at least one zoning district as a permitted use; encourage governments to develop expedited permitting and developmental approval processes specifically for housing developments that will provide rental units; and locate multi-family rental housing only in areas which are served, or can be readily served, by sanitary sewer.

Goal 3: Encourage and support a diverse mix of housing within the Grow North Region.

Strategies: Encourage development of a broad array of housing styles including high-density, multi-family, and missing-middle housing; encourage units of government to allow for alternative housing types in order to meet a greater variety of housing needs (ex.: mixed-use options including live/work space, tiny homes, accessory dwelling units [Granny flats]); and encourage governments to develop expedited permitting and developmental approval processes for housing developments.

Goal 4: Encourage housing that accommodates seniors, those with special needs, and those that are extremely-low income.

Strategies: Encourage units of government to provide a range of housing options that can accommodate seniors and low-income households (in particular, governments should increase the number of housing units within their communities that are affordable for extremely-low income households, as well as the number of households that can accommodate seniors and those with special needs); and encourage housing that provides for adaptability as the population ages and/or changes.

Full report available online

To view the full report, visit www.grownorth.tiny.us/housing.

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