Vacancy Problem Intensifying Milwaukee's Affordable Housing Issues

The city has plans to increase affordable housing, but some areas are seeing more progress than others.
October 28, 2018, 9am PDT | Camille Fink
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Tony Webster

Susan Nusser reports that Milwaukee’s attempts to deal with a lack of affordable housing is falling short of original goals. Earlier this year, Mayor Tom Barrett presented a plan to build or improve 10,000 units in the next decade. But while development in downtown is bringing a slew of luxury units to the city, progress on the affordable housing front is still lagging, says Nusser. 

An issue complicating affordable housing efforts is the concentrations of poverty and foreclosures that resulted from the housing crisis a decade ago. Milwaukee is not alone in facing this challenge, says Nusser:

One of the problems facing cities like Milwaukee—former manufacturing cities that have suffered severe population drops after de-industrialization—are the pockets of concentrated poverty that fail to improve even as other areas recover. As the desirable neighborhoods rebuild after the recession, impoverished ones slip further behind, and deep income disparities result. 

This hypervacancy perpetuates a cycle where neighborhoods deteriorate and some people are able to move away while others are forced to stay.

Community advocates say that broader strategies, rather than ones that focus on just on housing policies and programs, are needed to turn these neighborhoods around, keep residents, and attract new ones. “Neighborhood residents are interested in developing cooperative housing and land grants that would give the community some authority over board-ups and vacant lots,” says Nusser.

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Published on Monday, October 22, 2018 in CityLab
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