Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Offering $5,000 Down Payment Grants

Live in the city? Want to buy your first house in Milwaukee? New program aims to help.

By - Jun 16th, 2021 08:19 am
Houses on W. Windlake Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Houses on W. Windlake Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

High-end condominiums in Milwaukee’s Beerline neighborhood will help first-home homeowners buy houses elsewhere in the city.

Surrounded by nonprofit partners, Mayor Tom Barrett announced a new down payment assistance program Tuesday afternoon at Milwaukee City Hall.

The program will provide $5,000 grants to city residents to buy a house anywhere in the city or $7,000 to buy a home in a targeted, low-income neighborhood.

Barrett said the program would address the racial inequity in homeownership while improving the city for everyone. He hopes it can help 200 future homeowners.

“I recognize that homeownership in America is one of the most critical avenues towards creating not only stability, creating safety in neighborhoods, but also creating wealth,” said the mayor. “I feel very, very strongly that we have an obligation to do more to eliminate the racial disparities we are seeing in homeownership in Milwaukee.”

The city has seen a 12% homeownership decline since 2005. In the metro area, white residents are twice as likely to own their home as Black residents and 1.4 times more likely than Latino residents.

To qualify for a grant an individual must reside in the City of Milwaukee, have $1,000 of their own capital, make less than 80% of the area median income ($67,050 this year for a family of four) and not have owned a home for at least three years.

Dorothy York, chief operating officer at ACTS Housing, said the down payment boost would also reduce the risk of foreclosure. ACTS, a homeownership counseling nonprofit, is one of three organizations with the city on the effort. Also supporting the effort are the United Community Center and Housing Resources, Inc.

“We are very excited to work with the City of Milwaukee on this initiative,” said UEDA executive director Kristi Luzar. The nonprofit leads Take Root Milwaukee, a coalition working to promote sustainable homeownership in the city.

The program is being funded with $1.4 million from the closure of the Beerline B tax incremental financing district. The district was created in 1993 to fund public infrastructure costs associated with redeveloping the area along N. Commerce St. along the Milwaukee River.

After once being targeted for a new prison, the area now is home to a series of condominium developments and a riverwalk segment. It’s also generating $6.5 million annually in new property tax revenue. The district paid off its debt and is being closed, with the city using a state law exemption to use one year of its revenue to pay for affordable housing. Future revenues will reduce the property tax burden on other properties.

Barrett said it’s an example of how the growth of Downtown funds activity in the rest of the city. “Oftentimes there is criticism because what we are seeing is a lot of construction and activity in Downtown and the area around it,” he said.

Other funds from the district, as allocated in the 2021 budget, will go towards funding other existing city housing programs and creating new affordable housing programs.

“This is a testament to the strategy of making sure we have a strong heart,” said Barrett.

Department of City Development Commissioner Lafayette Crump credited DCD redevelopment and special projects manager Maria Prioletta with being the architect of the program.

Crump and Barrett also thanked the Community Development Alliance, a neighborhood-improvement-focused coalition backed by the Greater Milwaukee FoundationZilber Family FoundationNorthwestern Mutual Foundation and Bader Philanthropies, for its support. DCD is partnering with CDA on the development of a citywide affordable housing plan.

Those interested in accessing the grant program should contact ACTS, Housing Resources or UCC.

The program is already drawing interest. An individual observing the press conference in the City Hall rotunda told the mayor he would like to participate and was connected with one of the participating groups.

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