Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Proposal Would Fund Emergency Housing

City-owned properties would house displaced families, human trafficking victims. Plus: committee cuts Bublr funding.

By - Oct 31st, 2019 06:02 pm
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Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee City Hall

A budget amendment introduced by Alderwoman Chantia Lewis would have the city redevelop 10 units from the hundreds of properties it has acquired through property-tax foreclosure as temporary housing for city residents.

Lewis told the Finance & Personnel Committee she was drawn to the issue after learning of families who were displaced after members tested high for blood-lead levels, requiring in-home abatement work.

“It got me thinking, we have a housing stock, why not produce an emergency place for these people to go?” said Lewis. She said the targeted properties would be multi-family buildings.

The $300,000 program would be funded by reducing the corresponding amount of borrowing planned to be used to purchase new squad cars for the Milwaukee Police Department.

A total of $3,495,000 would remain for squad car replacement. But budget director Dennis Yaccarino warned that amount would likely be too low to replace the department’s goal of 60 squad cars per year.

Community Advocates chief operating officer Maudwella Kirkendoll said the housing could help and would allow the organization to provide case management to the residents.

The organization provides hotel vouchers to families in need of emergency housing, but said some families are rejected by the hotels for damaging property or having too many people. Kirkendoll said the need is so great that the program would not have a major impact on the community’s needs.

Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II backed the program on the understanding that the program could also be used for housing for women picked up during prostitution stings who are identified as victims of human trafficking.

The emergency housing proposal was passed as part of a larger omnibus amendment that included funding for a lead-safe kit program for mothers leaving the hospital (Birthing Moms pilot project), a $20,000 trauma informed care marketing campaign, a healthy food access coordinator, additional staffing for street sweeping and plow operators in the Department of Public Works, $300,000 to support funding the Office of Violence Prevention’s violence interrupters programs, and creating a $100,000 fund for participatory budgeting regarding violence prevention.

The omnibus proposal, which still must be heard by the full Common Council next week, was passed on a four-to-one vote. Ald. Michael Murphy voted in opposition. “There are some things in here I don’t like, some things in here I do,” said Murphy.

Bublr Bikes Funding Cut

The omnibus proposal also slashed the city’s operational support for Bublr Bikes from $110,000 to $0 and split that money to provide $55,000 for garbage cans at Stamper’s request and $55,000 to support the implementation of recommendations from Murphy’s reckless driving taskforce.

A budget amendment last year provided the same support for Bublr as the non-profit attempted to scale up and find a presenting sponsor. It was promised by city officials as a one-time commitment.

The city owns a number of bike-sharing stations, as do Wauwatosa, West Allis and Shorewood, that it contracts with the non-profit to operate. According to last year’s amendment, a 15-dock station with eight bikes costs $17,000 a year to operate.

“It was made extremely clear that it was not to be ongoing support,” said committee chair Milele A. Coggs. “I love Bublr. I know that residents that I represent use Bublr. I think bicycles are a great mode of transportation. But I also honor people’s word.”

Department of Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske said that Wauwatosa and West Allis have already affirmed their 2020 funding commitments and Shorewood was working through its commitment. He said the funding would support the system’s adaptive bike program and training program while the city, through a federal grant, adds more stations in 2020.

“They basically lied,” said Stamper about Bublr’s inclusion in the 2020 budget. “You’re defending liars.”

“I will definitely go on record saying I’m disappointed in the Bublr transition,” said Lewis. “We had a conversation over a year ago that it would expand to the far northwest side.”

Murphy said he supports the system, but thought they could find a corporate sponsor. He criticized officials from DPW and Bublr for not reaching out in the past year.

Bublr Bikes executive director James Davies was present but did not speak.

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