Bauman Proposes Moratorium On City Demolitions
Alderman proposes fixing all deteriorated city-owned homes using federal stimulus funds.
A sizable amount of the $405 million the City of Milwaukee is receiving from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act is likely to end up in housing-related programs. But which of the city’s myriad programs will get a funding boost remains to be seen.
“Is this a question of adding a million dollars to this and two million to that? Or are we looking at going in a substantially different direction?” asked Alderman Robert Bauman to other city officials at Monday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on the Redevelopment of Abandoned and Foreclosed Homes.
“There is an opportunity for some new initiatives,” said DCD redevelopment and special projects manager Maria Prioletta. “I think it’s going to be a collaborative approach involving everybody.”
Bauman has an idea for a new initiative – fix up every home the city owns.
The city currently has 865 “improved properties,” as they are described, to distinguish the vacant lots it owns from those with a structure (house or commercial building). That includes 204 newly acquired properties after the city executed its first foreclosure action since July 2020.
“That’s admirable. That’s half of what we have had in recent years,” said Bauman. The inventory list is down from 1,042 in April 2018 and more than 1,300 in 2016.
The number of structures subject to raze orders is also falling. A total of 372 properties in Milwaukee, including 195 owned by the city, are listed. For years the list has had more than 400 properties on it. Only three city-owned properties are subject to the “high priority” classification.
“In my humble opinion, that’s the exact opposite of what we should be doing,” said Bauman. “My goal is we stop demolition and we start looking at rehab of everything we have.”
“We can no longer complain ‘the extra cost, we don’t have the resources,’ now we have the resources,” he said, calling his strategy a demolition moratorium.
He singled out Hunger Task Force executive director and Merrill Park resident Sherrie Tussler as an example of what the city should do. Tussler, frustrated by city inaction on demolishing a fire-damaged house across the street from her own, bought the condemned house for $1, invested in rehabilitating it and sold it for $155,000.
He put Prioletta and veteran DNS operations director Thomas G. Mishefske on the spot. What do they think of the idea?
“I think we would agree, there is potential,” said Prioletta.
“I don’t know that I would say a moratorium, but I would agree with what is being discussed,” said Mishefske. “Yes, we should be rehabbing buildings as funding allows.”
A total of 165 city-owned properties are in the “medium priority” category on the raze list. Structures can spend years on the list before being demolished.
“If they’re in the medium category, that usually means they’re savable with the right energy and resources,” said Mishefske.
“Thank you, the magic words,” said Bauman. “I could not agree more.”
“I read in the real estate industry that there is massive demand for homes,” said Bauman. “And I look at our raze list and I think those studies must be misleading. Maybe they’re just talking about the suburbs, or they’re just talking about the prosperity neighborhoods in the city.”
Bauman, after suggestions from colleagues Russell W. Stamper, II and Jose G. Perez, amended his proposal to allow aldermanic discretion on the demolition of problem properties while maintaining a focus on rehabilitation.
The city would also lease some of the homes. “Not everyone can be a homeowner,” he said. “We are not talking thousands of units. We are talking scores of units maybe.”
He said the proposal would create jobs, help the environment and improve city neighborhoods and finances.
Klajbor brought up one question for which no one had an answer. The state caps the property tax levy by the value of new construction. Demolishing and replacing a structure yields a boost to the amount of revenue the city can collect. Does rehabilitating a city-owned property and returning it to private ownership do the same?