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Friday, April 12, 2024
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Madison mayoral candidates debate issues surrounding affordable housing, transportation

Incumbent mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and challenger Gloria Reyes faced each other in a forum on Monday to debate issues including affordable housing, equitable public transportation and food insecurity in Madison.

Incumbent mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and challenger Gloria Reyes faced off in a forum on Monday, to debate issues including affordable housing, equitable public transportation and food insecurity in Madison. 

The event was co-hosted by the Campus Area Neighborhood Association (CANA), BadgersVote, Chup, Go Vote! and the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) at the Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Each candidate started off with a three-minute opening statement, with Rhodes-Conway focusing on her time in office and the changes she made as mayor over the past four years, while Reyes spoke about her previous experiences in the community, and her concerns about the future of Madison. 

“I am jumping in this race because I care about Madison. I’m concerned about the future of Madison,” Reyes said in her opening statement. “I want to focus on public safety across the city, particularly public safety across the city, but I’m seeing trends right now on campus, and I think we really need to have targeted solutions and the community’s approach to solving crime in our city.”

Affordable housing remains a key issue 

Housing remains a huge priority to constituents, as a question asked to both candidates queried how they plan to address the issue of affordable and accessible housing for both renters and homeowners in Madison. Prices of homes in Madison reached record highs in the past few years and continue to skyrocket while wages fail to keep up, leading many to consider alternative options including moving out of the city. 

Rhodes-Conway attributed the housing crisis to the slow production of housing — which did not keep pace with the population growth in Madison — prior to her election in 2019. She proposed producing a wider variety of options for affordable housing as well as relaxation of the rules surrounding the construction of different types of housing in Madison.

“We need to be producing a whole variety of options,” said Rhodes-Conway. “We have worked over the past four years to more than double the affordable housing fund, we’ve produced thousands of housing units and we’ve changed the zoning. We made it easier to build things because it’s so important that we create housing choices all throughout our community so that everybody can afford to live here.”

In response, Reyes proposed a targeted universalist approach based on equity to work with developers and take concrete steps to start building housing units. 

“We are in this affordable housing crisis and we’re just not moving fast enough,” Reyes said. “I’m going to look at our current systems that are interfering with the process of developers and getting the work done quickly.”

The Common Council recently amended a section of Madison’s zoning code to increase the maximum number of unrelated people able to rent housing units from two to five to address the housing shortage, a change co-sponsored by Rhodes-Conway herself. This issue, brought up by an audience member during the Q&A portion of the debate, sparked a heated debate between the two candidates over whether the amendment is a solution to the housing crisis. 

“We do have to use every single tool in the housing toolbox, but we also have to address the problem right now,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I think that the work we did on changing the family definition speaks to that.” 

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Reyes contended that zoning ordinances are unable to provide Madison residents with the housing they need immediately and pointed to potential unintended consequences of this amendment which would impact areas closer to campus and those with single-family homes.

“I think we can’t just throw these zoning ordinances out there and it’s going to fix our problem,”  said Reyes. “We have to be intentional and think about and work with the UW campus and UW officials on where we build in this city and on campus.”

Candidates address equity in access to transportation

The candidates also debated transportation, including public transportation options available to Madison residents. Reyes argued that current transportation decisions made in the city do not prioritize equity, and her focus would be on a transportation network redesign intended to address issues of accessibility.

“As mayor, I’m going to evaluate that network design, and I also want to evaluate the transit system downtown to ensure that the bus is accessible to everybody,” said Reyes.

Rhodes-Conway responded with claims that the work her administration has done to solve transportation challenges in Madison tackles issues of equity for low-income communities. 

“The network redesign addresses those issues,” said Rhodes-Conway. “It makes it better for everyone but it makes it even better, if that’s a way to say it, for low-income folks and neighborhoods of color.” 

Another audience member asked the candidates about their plans to address food insecurity, given additional federal SNAP benefits sunsetted earlier this month. Both Rhodes-Conway and Reyes spoke about plans to increase food access and reduce food waste around the city, with Rhodes-Conway emphasizing the importance of creating a zero-waste ecosystem

Both candidates ended the debate by encouraging students to vote. The mayoral election will be held on April 4. 

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