Students identify ways to improve and expand homeowner loan renovation program

Under the guidance of Professor Kurt Paulsen, students explore financing options of the Renew Monona loan program, a city-managed loan program which helps homeowners remodel, renovate, and upgrade their homes.


Devin R. Larsen


Shelly Strom, Marshall Curry


City of Monona, WI, United States
Community Size
8,045 (2018 Census Estimation)
University of Wisconsin - Madison
UniverCity Year
Case Type
Project Stories
EPA Region 5, USA

In 2007, the City of Monona—a small city of 8,000 residents located near downtown Madison, Wisconsin—adopted a Strategic Housing Plan that had “the goals of providing a diverse range of housing options for its residents, encouraging homeownership for first-time homebuyers, and promoting maintenance and improvement of its existing housing stock” (UniverCity Year project final report). However, unprecedented national changes to the housing market meant this 2007 plan needed substantial reevaluation. 

In 2010, Monona officials created the Renew Monona loan program, a city-managed loan program for homeowners to remodel, renovate or otherwise improve their homes—from window replacement to energy-efficiency enhancements. While the program proved to be useful, city officials wanted to evaluate whether the loans were used as well as they had been proposed. 

The UniverCity Year program of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an EPIC-Network member, was created to help local government and community partners with identified sustainability and livability projects. Participating University faculty incorporate community-identified projects into classes, and provide students with on-the-ground experience in support of a more sustainable and livable future for the partnered community. 

During the 2016 to 2017 academic year, the City of Monona was chosen to partner with the UniverCity Year program due to its proximity to the university and for strong support from Mayor Bob Miller.

Students study financing efficiency of Renew Monona

The UniverCity Year program partnered UW-Madison’s Urban & Regional Planning 844: Housing & Public Policy course with the City of Monona to investigate financing options to implement recommendations provided by a previous UniverCity Year course, Urban & Regional Planning 912: Planning Workshop. 

Under the guidance of Professor Kurt Paulsen, who also taught the Planning Workshop course, students hoped to investigate the financial possibility of former Strategic Housing Plan recommendations while also expanding the Renew Monona loan program. Insights were garnered through the evaluation of past years of Renew Monona loan programs and studying the use of municipal funds going forward in support of affordable housing. 

Improving and expanding Renew Monona 

Students found that there is a continued demand for the Renew Monona loan program, as citizens regularly apply to the program years after it was established. While the program has continued on reliable footing, students found that targeted improvements could improve the efficiency of the program, all while incentivizing homeowners to apply in coming years. Recommendations included some of the following: 

  • Future iterations of the program should clearly state what types of home-renovation projects are eligible for loans 
  • Consider expanding the program so more home-improvement projects are eligible for funding in future application cycles
  • Offer a first-time homebuyer a down-payment-assistance program and low-interest loans to increase the likelihood of purchasing and repairing older homes and rental properties 

Following the in-depth evaluation of past Renew Monona program years, Kurt Paulsen and his students brought their findings to a local consultant. The loan program is currently being redesigned by a Community Development Agency, who expects to have the Renew Monona program redevelopment done by 2018.

Read the full story of the partnership.

Read the final student report delivered to the local gov/community partner.

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