Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cari Fuss' Perspective on Monona's Loan and Grant Programs

I asked former CDA Chair Cari Fuss to add her thoughts and she graciously sent the following:

Hi Doug,

Thanks for the follow up on these programs. These programs are critical to the stability of our tax base, now and into the future.

We do not qualify as a community for many of the programs that larger cities like Madison do, simply because of our population, housing stock, and city staffing levels. The City of Madison has an entire department dedicated to forwarding the cause of affordable housing and working on Block Grant programs (and other things like the ill-fated “IZ” program) that are funded with local AND federal dollars. The last time I visited that office in the course of business it was staffed with four or more full time employees. In Monona, we simply don't have the resources to staff City Hall in that way, and as such, volunteers like those who are appointed to the CDA work on these types of issues in a part time capacity under the direction of City Council.

As I researched options for our community in my time on the CDA, it was apparent to me that we needed to pursue options that allowed us to initiate a program where the rules could be written by OUR community, and not mandated by the federal government (as is the case with many of the HUD programs) due to the fact that it would be difficult for us to accomplish many of the program mandates.

Also, my research led me to believe that many federally funded programs will potentially be at risk in the future as funding sources are strained and budget issues arise - and, many of the programs are competitive, meaning that Monona may not qualify now or in the long term.

As such, using the change to state law that allowed the extension of TIF for this purpose accomplishes much for our community that we wouldn't otherwise be able to achieve. We write the rules and we control the funds. AND, we have a solid, predictable funding source that will grow as we experience continued success in our commercial development areas. Not to mention that there is a pay-it-forward mentality here, in that the monies come back to us when ownership changes occur or in 10 years, whichever comes first. So, we get the money back AFTER the investment in the housing stock is made, and we turn around and lend it out again for further improvement and investment.

And the other poster is right.....it's pretty easy in Madison if you dig, which is why we are building a program now that is easy and will continue to grow for Monona. Please contact City Hall to discuss updated forecasts with our City Finance Director, Marc Houttaker - but when I left the CDA, our forecasts predicted a revolving fund that should grow to several hundred thousand dollars (a boon for a community of our size) within the next 5 or 6 years. I won't go into details here, but I am sure City staff can fill you in.

Which brings me to the business Facade Grant program. Our community relies heavily on our commercial tax base to make things like fire and ambulance service, trash pickup, water and sewer services, road and utility reconstruction, excellent city parks and public facilities such as our pool and a quality school district possible and affordable for our relatively small community. Fostering development and continuous improvement in our commercial tax base is critical to the future of our community, and Facade Grant programs are often successful in creating additional investment, and thereby tax base, than might otherwise occur.

Again, I won't bore you with the details, but as we studied North Monona Drive at the CDA level, it was very apparent that over time, investment and/or reinvestment has not occurred in this commercial area of our community. Call City Staff to discuss how that has negatively impacted the average homeowner's tax bill in our community. You will be very surprised. This lack of reinvestment has created a notable lack of equality in tax assessment growth when compared to other areas in our commercial tax base. We must continue to be proactive as a community about pursuing, funding, and encouraging opportunities for businesses investing in our community, now and in the long term.

Please remember that for every dollar that we invest in our community's real estate and business growth and improvement, there is a return. And, even if that return only guarantees stability (which is probably the case in an economy such as we are experiencing now and which should be accomplished through the checks and balances associated with our application and underwriting processes), that puts us ahead of many (if not most!) of our peer communities state wide.

These issues are difficult and there are many moving parts to both the problems and the potential solutions. I understand where some of the previous posters' "questioning" comes in - isn't it that way it is with any new program? I would encourage people to ask questions and get involved and find out how you can participate and/or benefit. The Renew Monona housing program will be significant for our community and will provide a model for other communities across the state who struggle with the very same issues that we do.

Thanks for the opportunity to provide some clarity on these programs. As I work in communities throughout Dane County, it is apparent that Monona's progressive and aggressive approach to dealing with our aging housing stock and growth in our commercial sector will benefit ALL of us who pay taxes well into the future.


Cari Fuss


  1. Wow, this is great! She gets is. A couple questions though:

    What does "CDA" stand for?
    She mentions the dilapidated state of the business on north Monona Drive, but doesn't mention any plan for improvement. Or, does she mean that is what prompted the Facade Grant Program?

  2. Cari deserves a large thank you for all of the time and effort she spent as CDA chair on this and other important community centered projects. As Doug mentioned, with limited administrative staffing, much of the city's work is done by volunteer committee members.
    Thanks Cari.

  3. "CDA" is the Community Development Authority". The CDA and City have bought two properties on the north end of the Drive sort of across from the high school vicinity. The CDA is the city's quasi-independnet redevelopment & housing authority.


    No, that area was not the genesis of facade program. That area needs redevelopment. The *general* broad strokes plan is for the city/CDA to acquire the parcels so that they can be redeveloped as a package. A new facade wouldn't fix them.

    The facade program only applies in TIF 4 (lower Monona Drive up to Nichols) and was more to help businesses do a little more when they are going to spend their own money to improve the appearance of basically good properties. It's a 1-2 match (we give $1 for every $2 you spend up to $10K).

  4. I'm the anon who raised the question on the other post, and thanks to Ms. Fuss for her extensive response. It is very good to learn this program can grow. I hope it does. With our housing stock we compete with similar homes across the drive in the Buckeye neighborhood where buyers have access to the Madison programs. I think the facade program for businesses is great too.

    I will say, however, that despite the incredible service from people like Ms. Fuss there comes a point where we gets whats we pay for in many ways. Relying on volunteers puts us at the mercy of hoping we always have the right volunteer at the right time. I don't mind paying a little more in taxes to make sure our staffing levels are where they should be.

  5. "I don't mind paying a little more in taxes to make sure our staffing levels are where they should be."

    Budget time is just around the corner, so that would be a good time to let the council know your views by making an appearance at the budget hearing, emailing, calling alders, etc.

  6. "That area needs redevelopment. The *general* broad strokes plan is for the city/CDA to acquire the parcels so that they can be redeveloped as a package. A new facade wouldn't fix them."


    What is the timeframe for all of this? According to the Monona Rag, the city already owns the tanning place. Has the city acquired (or is in the process of) acquiring anything else? Details please.

  7. "Bob Miller said... "???

    Bob Miller? That name is familiar for some reason.....

  8. Bob Miller? Isn't he the curmudgeon with the stop sign in his front yard?

  9. One is not allowed to call oneself a curmudgeon. It is a title bestowed upon one by others. Bob, you are so not one. You're a swell guy, a good egg, a real peach, all which are way better.

  10. Ohhh, if you only knew him like I know him.....

    ! !

    OK, OK, he's a great guy.