Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Sold 249 Foreclosed Homes in 2021

But hundreds of homes remain in city ownership awaiting your bid.

By - Jan 28th, 2022 04:31 pm
The Amani Training Center, Photo from Ezekiel CDC.

The Amani Training Center, Photo from Ezekiel CDC.

If you’re looking for a house, the City of Milwaukee would love to hear from you. The city regularly sells homes it acquires through tax foreclosure to new owners.

At a press conference Wednesday, Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson announced that in 2021 the city sold 249 improved properties (lots with a house, commercial building or another structure on them). Johnson, who became mayor at the end of that year, said that exceeded the Department of City Development‘s goal by more than 10%.

“The City of Milwaukee doesn’t want to hold onto property that could be home for a local family because it’s no good to do that. Those properties become drains on our resources at the city,” said Johnson. “We prioritize selling homes to owner-occupants which adds greater stability to our neighborhoods and we hope it helps those homeowners build wealth for themselves and their families.”

Some of the houses are ready for new owners with the turn of a key, and are sold at market rates. Many others require substantial repair and are not only sold at a discount, but include some form of subsidy to rehabilitate the property.

The currently available homes are listed on the DCD website, as well as information on the programs available to support the homes’ rehabilitation. Its most recent accounting, back in November, listed more  than 700 properties for sale.

The press conference was held at a home, 2927-2929 N. 26th St., that was restored by the Ezekiel Community Development Corp. A targeted effort was launched in 2019 to attempt to rehabilitate the entire block, including its three vacant homes.

“We made improvements in the Amani neighborhood,” said area Alderman Khalif Rainey. “We are excited about going block to block along with our partners in Northwestern Mutual and [Ezekiel CDC].”

Ezekiel vice president Jim Gaillard believes the improvements to the homes are just a byproduct of his organization’s main focus: a skills training program targeting ex-offenders. “The real product is the human resource that has changed and made their life a whole different world,” said Gaillard. “We’ve had a lot of success with this.”

Ezekiel, backed by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation and other community partners, is working to train area residents for careers in the trades as part of the effort. The neighborhood, bounded by W. Keefe Ave., N. 20th St., W. North Ave. and N. 30th St. is among the city’s most impoverished and has struggled since the decline and ultimate closure of the nearby Tower Automobile plant (now the Century City business park).

“Some of the guys that put the windows in this house or put the lights in the house, they never thought that they could do this,” said Gaillard. “Some had resorted to a life of crime. Now they’re fixing up things instead of tearing up things.”

“Beyond actual repair of the neighborhood, we’re actually building pathways of hope for young people here in the city of Milwaukee,” said Rainey.

According to a Wisconsin Policy Forum report, a total of $169,475 was spent on rehabilitating the home on 26th Street where the press conference was held, and will eventually be sold for $50,000 to a lower-income buyer. Gaillard said the focus is on finding a first-time homeowner.

The WPF report was intended to analyze progress of the Amani Housing Pilot to guide how future efforts could proceed. One area WPF identified for improvement is the structure of city programs that offer housing funding and how partners access them. Project partners encountered a number of problems accessing the funds, including the sequence by which they must be paired with other funding sources. Federal HOME funds, which are allocated first to the city as a grant, were unavailable to cover some of the anticipated costs as they do not support job training expenses.

The good news is that there is plenty of funding available as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act. A total of $15 million from the city’s $197.2 million first tranche is targeted at rehabilitating and selling 150 of the city’s approximately 700 homes.

For more on the Amani project and WPF’s study, see our December coverage.

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