Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Bauman’s $150 Million Affordable Housing Plan

Plan would save every city-owned single-family home and duplex.

By - Jun 18th, 2021 01:17 pm
A city-owned home on N. 21st. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A city-owned home on N. 21st. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Alderman Robert Bauman is pushing ahead on his proposal to use federal funds to repair every house the city holds in its inventory after pursuing property-tax foreclosure.

Bauman, the council’s leading preservation advocate, is calling for $150 million of the $394 million the city will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to go towards affordable housing.

“The ARPA funds are meant to be transformative, to be used for helping communities recover by addressing vital needs. In my view, directly addressing our affordable housing crisis and providing shelter is absolutely what the funding is meant for,” said Bauman in a press release announcing his resolution.

Under the proposal, a total of $105 million would go to the Department of City Development (DCD) to rehabilitate approximately 700 single-family houses and duplexes at an estimated cost of $150,000 per living unit. The per-unit cost would be lower than building new houses said Bauman and the city can now afford to rent out the homes at below-market rates.

Those properties could either be sold at “affordable” prices or leased as part of an affordable housing rental portfolio. Revenues would fund future rehabilitation work.

DCD would be tasked with recommending to the council whether it should do the work with city employees or by hiring contractors.

“There are thousands of Milwaukeeans struggling to pay their rent and mortgages, and members of the public frequently expressed their support for the city to invest in and expand affordable housing throughout Milwaukee during three recent town hall-style ARPA virtual listening sessions hosted by members of the Common Council,” said Bauman.

The alderman first introduced the framework for the idea in April. His proposal to institute a demolition moratorium on city-owned houses while exact funding amounts were sorted out was defeated following opposition from his colleagues with the greatest number of city-owned homes in their districts.

The new resolution skips the holding stage and jumps right to allocating the money.

In addition to the $105 million to DCD, a total of $35 million would go to  the Housing Trust Fund to support developers creating new or renovated affordable housing. In 2019 the city allocated $900,000 from the program, representing two years of the program’s budget, to fill funding gaps in projects that were poised to create a total of 207 affordable housing units. That includes the Old Main at Soldiers Home redevelopment and the new construction Villard Commons building.

Additionally, $9 million would go towards expanding capacity within existing city affordable housing programs including the STRONG Homes Loan program for privately-owned housing repairs, the Targeted Investment Neighborhood Down Payment Grant program, MERI a public-private partnership for city-owned home repair and sale, the rental rehabilitation program, Live/Work Duplex conversion program and Bronzeville homeownership program.

DCD would be tasked with providing recommendations on specific funding allocations to its programs.

The remaining $1 million would go to the Department of Neighborhood Services Compliance Loan Program. The blight abatement program provides no-interest, deferred loans to homeowners to make repairs on owner-occupied properties subject to code violations. The loans are paid back on transfer of the property to a new owner.

The council will debate the proposal at a future committee meeting. Other proposals for the funds, including backfilling lost revenue to the tune of $40 million are pending. One proposal would allocate at least $15 million to council members ($1 million per district) to decide how their constituents would like it spent. Another Bauman proposal, to spend $100 million to fix the city’s aging streetlights, is not eligible given the federal parameters.

The funds can’t be used to reduce taxes, pay the city’s pension liability or pay down debt. It can be used to supplement lost revenue, compared to 2019, meaning it could replace money lost from the suspension of parking violations and other permitting fees.

Mayor Tom Barrett announced in early June that $3.8 million would go towards summer employment opportunities for young city residents, expanding the existing Earn and Learn program. The council approved the allocation Tuesday.

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6 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Bauman’s $150 Million Affordable Housing Plan”

  1. sbaldwin001 says:

    I am surprised by the last sentences stating that the city is spending $3.8 million on Earn and Learn – a summer employment program for young city residents. Why is this program needed when there are so many jobs available? I know the grocery business is starving for employees.

  2. blurondo says:

    Programs like this have been initiated in other cities. There are track records available to assist in Milwaukee’s decision making process.
    This sounds like a win-win for the city and its residents.

  3. says:

    I applaud Mr. Bauman on his proposal.I intend to work till I’m 72 and have been struggling for the past 4 years to find a “forever before the grave” home that does not cost more than 35-40 percent of my take home pay in rent. i am a medical coder at MCW and my last raise was 1.5 percent in 2019. Frozen wages since then, and as of March 2020, there is no overtime available. The 4-5 hours a month REALLY helped. I’m lucky to still have a job, but keeping my head above water has become a constant struggle. For the politicians–local and state–who insist decent, affordable housing that is up to code and near a MCTS busline is not an issue, I invite them to take their heads out of the sand and explore solutions. Who can afford to live in all the high end places going up? My salary is about $49,500 and until 4 years ago, when rents really started going up, (thank you Walker and State Legislature) I had no difficulty living in a decent place and having a little extra. I do not have cable nor a smartphone. Something REALLY needs to be done about the outrageous rents and landlords who buy building, raise rents with no improvements and install non-English speakers as resident managers where all tenants have English as a primary language.Hard working essential employees play by the rules only to get screwed. It’s about time those in power and living the dream do something so the struggling class can have decent, affordable housing and enough for groceries.

  4. Mark Nicolini says:

    800 homes doesn’t seem transformative. I certainly support the notion of taking on the housing challenge aggressively, I’d like the City to identify strategies that would enable this level of investment to result in a greater level of units becoming available.

  5. Duane says:

    Rehabbing these houses at $150,000 per unit seems pretty absurd.

  6. BriPet says:

    Does the City even have the crew capacity to do that many homes? Didn’t a program fail recently because they couldn’t find anyone to do the work on a consistent basis?

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