Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Crowley Using CARES Funds For Housing

Of $77 million in federal funding, biggest single grant helps those at risk of losing housing.

By - Jul 27th, 2020 07:15 pm
Homes along N. 17th St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Homes along N. 17th St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley’s administration has decided how it will spend the $77 million in CARES Act funding to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in Milwaukee County, devoting the largest allocation to maintaining housing for county residents.

Huge chunks of the funding will be tied up in Personal Protective Equipment purchases and other direct COVID-19 mitigation efforts, maintaining social distancing in the county jail and House of Correction and administrative costs stacking up in the county’s ongoing efforts to track and respond to COVID-19 and the challenges that run off from it.

So far, the county has received a $15 million allocation from the state and $62 million from the federal government. Originally the federal government allocated $165 million for Milwaukee County, but guidance from the Department of the Treasury resulted in the majority of that allocation, $103 million, in state coffers. Both Crowley and County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson have called on the state, unsuccessfully, to disburse them to the county.

Crowley’s administration is earmarking $15 million for housing and homeless services. In June, the County Board approved $10 million for programs securing housing during the pandemic. But they increased it given the need for this in the county

Joseph Lamers, director of the Performance, Strategy and Budget Office, recently summarized the county’s planned CARES Act spending for the County Board’s Committee on Finance. He said the two agencies working with the county to process housing-related requests have fielded more than 20,000 calls for help with rent or evictions.

One of those agencies, Community Advocates, is processing approximately 1,500 applications for rental assistance right now, said James Mathy, housing division administrator. Also working with the county on this is the Social Development Commission, which is working with Community Advocates to field and process requests for help. Hope House will also be contracted for $2.5 million to provide eviction prevention case management and as a fiscal agent for providing rental assistance funds.

Of the $15 million, $10 million is going to rental assistance efforts, $3 million for mortgage assistance and $2 million towards housing acquisition for those that have limited housing options because of COVID-19. Shelters are running at very limited capacities. The housing division plans to use the $2 million to purchase a building by September.

The county is also setting aside $7 million for small business grants. Local businesses can apply for funding to help them restock inventory after the shutdown, purchase PPE and handle payroll, rent, utilities and costs incurred to modify a space to meet physical distancing guidelines.

During the pandemic the numbers of suicides and drug overdoses Milwaukee County is seeing suggest the pandemic and shutdown exacerbated existing crises. In May, Urban Milwaukee reported an 80 percent increase in calls for suicide attempts during the pandemic. Part of the county’s CARES Act funding will go towards providing public and mental health services to those without health insurance.

There is also a $3.5 million allocation to a program that partners the county with Employ Milwaukee and WRTP/Big Step to connect unemployed county residents with job training and employment opportunities.

The rest of the funding will help COVID-19 mitigation and lifesaving efforts, like cleaning, sick leave, and re-opening measures for county functions, like the courts. Then there are a number of direct administrative costs related to the county’s battle with the virus. CARES Act funds will go towards things like emergency planning and communication and increased death investigations.

Depending on how the pandemic plays out, those funds may be shifted to other areas. But for county leaders, the question remains as to whether it’s enough. “I implore our state and federal partners to provide additional direct and flexible funding to Milwaukee County and enable us to effectively respond to the challenges caused by this pandemic,” Crowley said in a statement.

Milwaukee County has had a structural budget deficit for approximately the last decade. And even before the pandemic hit, county budget planners were expecting a major budget deficit in 2021. Crowley recently announced that the county is projecting to lose at least $100 million in revenue this year, adding a sizable hole to a budget that was already starting in the red.

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