Race for Mayor: Landlords Back Olson

By Eric Timmons

Jessica Olson has raised $13,235 for her mayoral campaign and most of it has come from landlords and property developers.

Olson is a landlord herself, managing Olson Apartments, which was founded by her parents David and Elaine Olson. The couple helped found the La Crosse Area Apartment Association and Wisconsin Apartment Owners Association and have contributed $2,000 to their daughter’s campaign.

Olson, who is currently a member of the La Crosse Common Council, has also received donations from:

The numbers come from Olson’s January campaign finance report, which was filed Friday and covers money raised mainly in the final months of 2020 (click here to view the full report). No other mayoral candidate raised more than $650 over the same period, giving Olson a substantial fundraising lead in the campaign for the city’s top job.

Speaking on Sunday, Olson said it was fair for questions to be asked about her donors. She does not want to be be perceived as a “landlord candidate” and insisted she’s working for the common good.

“I don’t consider myself beholden to any one person or any one industry,” Olson said. “What’s good for landlords, is also good for the city; I think everybody wants tenants and renters to have stability, to be self-sufficient, and self-reliant.”

Public court records show that River City Rentals, owned by Nathan Brooks, filed dozens of evictions in 2020 in La Crosse, despite state and federal eviction moratoriums being in place for much of the year. The moratoriums likely reduced the number of evictions filed in La Crosse in 2020 but contained loopholes that meant evictions did continue. Olson said the fact she accepted donations from various landlords did not mean she endorsed their particular business models. It does mean that those landlords, whom she has developed relationships with over the years due to her work, have faith in her ability as a leader, she said. Olson noted that her family business has not evicted a tenant since the 1990s.

The mayor’s office does have power to assist landlords, for example through its ability to direct the city’s building inspectors and their enforcement of property codes. The mayor’s office also could be used to push for the easing of regulations that hold back increased levels of multi-family housing in La Crosse, creating new investment opportunities for landlords.

Olson is one of 10 mayoral candidates who will participate in the February 16 primary election ahead of the April general election. Chris Stolpa, one of those candidates, supports the introduction of rent caps based on the assessed value of property, a policy landlords would likely oppose. But it’s unclear if the city would have the authority to impose rent caps, a move that likely would require state action. Olson said the best way to avoid rising rents was to increase the housing supply in the city.

Aside from Olson, the only other mayoral candidates who reported raising any funds by the Jan. 15 deadline were Sam Schneider, Vicki Markussen and Mitch Reynolds. Markussen raised $175, Schneider $259 and Reynolds $630. The candidates will also file fundraising reports ahead of the February primary and the April election. Olson said significant funding was needed to run a “professional mayoral campaign” but that does not mean that she is for sale.

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