A candidate forum showed a slight difference between how two men running for Eau Claire City Council president in next month’s election view the community’s approach to a shortage of housing.
Acting council President Andrew Werthmann and Councilman Terry Weld answered several questions from about a dozen homebuilders and Realtors assembled Thursday morning at the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association on Eau Claire’s north side.
“Affordability for housing is the most important issue we need to focus on,” Werthmann said.
The man who’s been leading the council since President Kerry Kincaid resigned in June said the city’s elected officials need to be advocates for those who need affordable housing.
“We have to be on the forefront for people who need it most,” he said.
Weld took a more general stance on homebuilding. While affordability was included in his comments, he said the city needs a bigger supply of many levels of housing.
“I think we can accomplish the goals of everyone and still have in the back of our minds that we have to build, build, build,” he said.
He added that as people move into new housing, that will create a vacancy elsewhere and add to the overall supply.
Both candidates also were asked how the city could help builders speed up their work to meet the high demand for housing.
Werthmann and Weld both acknowledged that the city has re-examined building permits and fees in recent months, but each suggested some potential changes.
Werthmann advocated for an expedited permit building process for construction projects proposing new housing in older neighborhoods.
“Developers should be rewarded for helping us figure out our most pressing housing challenges,” he said.
The city should take a deeper look at its permit fees, Weld said, noting that it usually takes multiple permits to build or improve a home.
“Certainly it makes sense to see if we can consolidate that,” he said.
One question asked candidates if they would be interested in establishing a new city advisory commission that would deal specifically with housing affordability.
Werthmann, who praised existing city advisory groups that weigh concerns of waterways, pedestrians and sustainability, said he would be in favor of a similar group focused on housing affordability.
“It is something I would support,” he said. “If elected, it is something I’d move forward on.”
While not necessarily rejecting the idea, Weld said that sending builders to an additional group for approval of a project could add more time to the process that they’re hoping to streamline. He posed that the city could potentially include affordability as part of the current plan commission’s review of projects.
Weld and Werthmann are vying for a special one-year term as council president in the April 2 election, which is what remains of Kincaid’s unexpired term.
The two previously participated in a forum on March 7 sponsored by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce and several media outlets.
Thursday morning’s forum was jointly sponsored by the Chippewa Valley Home Builders Association and the Realtors Association of Northwest Wisconsin.