This article analyzes key trends in housing availability, shifting demographics, occupancy patterns and rising costs in Jefferson County. Understanding these trends is crucial for developing effective strategies to address the current housing challenges.
Between 2012 and 2022, Jefferson County experienced a notable 9.53 percent increase in the number of households, growing from 32,360 to 35,443. This surge suggests a vibrant and expanding community, which is great news for employers in the county, but also demonstrates a need for more housing options.
Changing Household Sizes
A recent report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum revealed a significant trend where households are getting smaller
in the state, and Jefferson County mirrors this trend. Average household size in the county has decreased from
2.38 to 2.18 since 2012 for all types of housing. For renters specifically, the average household size has decreased
to 1.92, indicating a preference for more compact living arrangements.
Diverse Household Compositions
While two-person households remained relatively steady from 2012 to 2022 (36 percent and 36.9 percent,
respectively), households with three or more people decreased from 19.25 percent to 16.55 percent.
One noteworthy aspect is the increase in individuals living alone, reaching 29.9 percent in 2022, up from 25.5 percent in 2012. Among renters, this household composition is even more pronounced, with 47.2 percent living alone.
average household size
Housing Unit Dynamics
Housing Unit Growth
The number of housing units in Jefferson County increased 4.69 percent from 2012-2022, reaching 36,888 in 2022. This increase falls short of the nearly 10 percent growth in households over the same period, indicating an insufficient supply to meet
Single vs. Multi-Unit Structures
More than 76 percent of the housing units in the county are one-unit structures, demonstrating a
continued prevalence of single-family homes. Nearly six percent of housing structures have two to
four units, and more than 14 percent have five or more units. Mobile homes make up approximately
three percent of housing structures in the county.
Age of Existing Housing Stock
A significant 59.6 percent of structures were built before 1980, with 24.5 percent dating back to before 1940. This highlights the need for ongoing maintenance and potential renovations to ensure the longevity of the county's housing stock.
A majority of existing structures (67.2 percent) in the county have two or three bedrooms. A quarter of the county’s housing units have four or more bedrooms. The ongoing decline of the average household size creates a mismatch between the types of housing available and what’s needed to meet shifting demographics and preferences.
Vacancy rates for both homeowners and renters have also decreased, indicating a tighter and more dynamic housing market.
Ownership vs. Renting
Ownership has become more prevalent in the county, with owner-occupied housing increasing from 71.7 percent to 74.3 percent since 2012. Renter-occupied housing has seen a decrease from 28.3 percent to 25.7 percent.
Vacancy rates for both homeowners and renters have also decreased, indicating a tighter and more dynamic housing market. The 2022 vacancy rate for owner-occupied homes was a mere .4 percent, while the vacancy rate for rental units was 3.2 percent. Typically, a healthy housing market will see a vacancy rate of about 6 percent.
Rising Housing Costs
In 2022, the median housing cost for homeowners was $1,710, while median rent was $1,015. This median rent for the county was higher than the state average of $992. The data reveals that 38.3 percent of renters spend 30 percent or more on housing each month, highlighting potential affordability challenges. On the homeowners' side, 25.4 percent face a similar cost burden. These figures emphasize the importance of addressing housing affordability in the county.
Jefferson County's evolving household and housing landscape reflects the broader shifts occurring in communities across the country. Meeting the diverse needs of residents requires proactive strategies, including the development of housing that is affordable to the county’s workforce, renovation initiatives and the promotion of housing diversity. Addressing these challenges will not only ensure a thriving community but also contribute to the broader economic well-being of Jefferson County.
How did we get here?
There is no single reason for the issues of housing availability and affordability in the county, though several trends have contributed:
The cost to construct a single-family home has increased 36% since 2020. New homes are selling for $300,000 - $450,000, resulting in unattainable mortgage/rental rates for most Jefferson County residents.
The number of housing units in the county has not grown at the same rate as the population. This problem is compounded by a slow turnover rate, as people stay in their homes longer.
Shifting demographics and needs
There is a mismatch between existing housing stock and the demographics and needs of today’s workforce.
Incentives are needed to fill financing gaps and encourage development in Greater Jefferson County rather than metro areas where rents and sale prices are higher and higher margins can be attained.
Our housing needs change throughout our life. A 20-year-old going to college and working part time will need different housing than a family with children. Empty nesters no longer need the type of housing they had when they were raising their children. We need housing that meets the needs of current and prospective residents.
What happens if we do nothing?
What happens when workers can’t find affordable housing in the communities where they work?
They commute longer distances. More than half of the employees working in Jefferson County commute in from outside the county. This erodes community engagement and places an additional burden on road infrastructure.
They compete for available housing units. In a tighter market, this drives up prices/rents, particularly for the lower end of the market.
They acquire a lower quality or smaller unit that doesn’t meet their needs.
They become cost-burdened and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Live Local Development Fund
Thrive Economic Development (ThriveED) has announced the launch of the Live Local Development Fund (LLDF), an initiative aimed at promoting housing development and fostering vibrant communities across Greater Jefferson County.
The LLDF, which will be administered by ThriveED, marks a pivotal step toward addressing the lack of available and affordable housing stock by incentivizing the creation of multi-family housing developments. While the cost of housing construction in Jefferson County aligns closely with neighboring regions such as Dane County and Waukesha County, the rental income generated is comparatively lower. This gap in revenue often obstructs housing development projects in Jefferson County. Through LLDF's strategic gap financing, the county is positioned to be on par with neighboring regions, enhancing its competitiveness and driving housing development.
The LLDF currently has $3 million available, with additional funding expected to be announced in the fall. Jefferson County has committed $1 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) to the loan fund, and the Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation has committed $2 million.
The LLDF is designed to promote housing of all types, from affordable to market rate, in the county. The fund will offer up to $25,000 per unit for a negotiated term at or below market rates. Public, private and not-for-profit real estate developers are eligible to apply. The initial focus will be on multi-family housing developments in Greater Jefferson County, with a planned expansion to include single family housing projects in the years to come.
Developers interested in applying or learning more can complete the inquiry form linked below.
Addressing the housing shortage requires the input and support of all stakeholders. We invite you to be part of the solution. To learn more about development in Greater Jefferson County and the Live Local Development Fund, contact us.