Felons Can Now Buy City Homes
Council agrees: pay debt to society and you can buy city-owned homes.
Legislation introduced by Alderman Khalif Rainey and co-sponsored by Ald. Nik Kovac creates a pathway for felons to purchase city-owned homes. The full Common Council unanimously approved the proposal today. Rainey had learned of the ban while working on the city’s efforts to reinvigorate the Sherman Park neighborhood.
Ald. Michael Murphy questioned Rainey and Kovac on the protections in the proposal. While noting that this change is for those that have paid their debt to society, the long-time alderman asked the sponsors “was there any consideration if the crime itself was associated with real estate swindling?”
Rainey, citing a letter from the City Attorney, noted “there are still safeguards in place that should prevent this, should any malfeasance occur. To respond to Alderman Murphy’s concern there will still be some oversight, this won’t be a free for all.”
Rainey and Kovac went on to justify their support for the proposal, noting that it mirrors similar “ban the box” legislation that eliminates questions about being a felon on job applications and other government forms. Rainey stated “it is important that we be transparent to the people of Milwaukee that, should you be interested in buying a home in Milwaukee, the opportunity does exist.”
Added Kovac:”I agree with Alderman Rainey that we need to send a message to the community that we know there are a lot of people with criminal records in the community and we want them and expect them to get back on their feet.” Kovac added that a similar adjustment was made to the city’s rent-to-own program.
The new ordinance doesn’t completely wipe out safeguards for the city in doing background checks on potential buyers. Officials would still be allowed to check for any existing health and building code violations, any open Department of Neighborhood Services orders and whether the buyer had a tax foreclosed property in the last five years.
The legislation applies to city-owned homes. The city, which Kovac notes is an owner of last resort, is still dealing with a substantial inventory of tax-foreclosed properties following the Great Recession and associated foreclosure crisis.