More than a year into her term as state treasurer, Sarah Godlewski announced this week the launch of a task force aimed at boosting home ownership, part of a quest to bring her office — long a shadow of its former self — back to life.
The task force, made up predominantly of local treasurers, is scheduled to conclude its work by the end of the year and seeks to help Wisconsinites buy their first homes and be able to stay in them by avoiding penalties, delinquencies and foreclosures.
The task force is Godlewski’s latest effort to restore the importance of the state treasurer’s office, which lawmakers from both parties have said no longer serves a purpose. Lawmakers have shifted most of the office’s responsibilities to other agencies since the mid-1990s.
Godlewski won election after leading a campaign to preserve the office during an ultimately unsuccessful 2018 referendum to eliminate it.
Republican legislators have expressed little appetite for expanding the role of the office, whose budget shrunk from $544,800 in fiscal 2014 and 2015 to $113,500 in fiscal 2018 and 2019 and have said the downsizing represents a win for small government.
“The people of Wisconsin asked for this,” Godlewski said. “I believe the reason that we won was we talked about financial security as part of that mission that the state treasurer should be achieving.”
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Her task force will seek to develop a network of local treasurers and community organizations that can work together to improve home ownership and prevent foreclosures. Wisconsin has one state treasurer, 72 county treasurers and more than 1,400 municipal treasurers.
Godlewski said one example of what the task force could do might be to encourage local treasurers to connect struggling homeowners with organizations that help them buy a first house or deal with foreclosures. Godlewski said another outcome she hopes for is to create a “foreclosure prevention system” where local treasurers can provide resources for residents who have trouble paying utilities or property taxes.
Godlewski said the task force, which met for the first time Wednesday, isn’t meant to produce reports that would “sit on the shelf” or result in legislative action. Rather, Godlewski said she wants to find ways to work within her own authority to improve home ownership in the state.
“Exactly why I ran was to help Wisconsinites build their financial security,” Godlewski said. “One of the responsibilities under the state treasurer is to help train county and municipal treasurers and work together, and this was happening.”
Besides Godlewski and local treasurers, the task force includes representatives from the Wisconsin League of Municipalities and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.
According to the WRA, Wisconsin has a lower home ownership rate among people ages 25 to 44 than most neighboring states, and rates of homeownership have declined in the state from 2007 to 2017 across all age groups except seniors, with the youngest age group seeing the largest drop.
The homeownership rate among Wisconsin’s African American population is about 25%, while the rate among the Hispanic population is 47% and the rate among the white population is over 70%.