Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County May Fund Suburban Affordable Housing

Housing division proposal would invest $15 million in federal ARPA funds.

By - May 16th, 2022 05:34 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County is considering putting $15 million into affordable housing projects around the county using funds from its $183.7 million American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocation.

James Mathy, director of the county’s Housing Division, said these funds would primarily be used to leverage additional investment in affordable housing projects. He estimated that a $15 million investment by the county could yield more than $100 million in additional funds for affordable housing.

On May 12, the county’s ARPA Task Force considered the division’s request for these funds and recommended them for approval. Next, the request will go to the county board’s finance committee and then a vote by the full board.

The focus of the funding would be to increase the supply of affordable housing in Milwaukee suburbs, as the City of Milwaukee received its own $394 million ARPA allocation and plans to put some of that money into affordable housing. But as Matty noted, “We will not exclude projects in the city of Milwaukee, especially ones that do have a tie to different county departments,”

Mathy said the Housing Division has been discussing mixed-use projects that would see affordable housing developed with senior or community centers.

“Being able to focus on our suburban communities expands our footprint of affordable housing,” Mathy said. “There is very little affordable housing in our suburban municipalities.”

Mathy said the county has already found “very solid projects” in five suburban municipalities. The focus for the division is primarily on multi-family developments, he told the task force.

Still, getting affordable housing projects off the ground in suburban communities remains a challenge, Mathy said. “There is a lot of unfortunate opposition to affordable housing in suburban municipalities.”

Of the projects the county has already identified, Mathy said, “We’ll see if those move all the way forward.”

The plan is to provide gap financing for affordable housing projects that have already identified other sources of financing, like Low Income Housing Tax Credits. The county will also look at investing in market rate projects to stake out some of the units for affordable housing.

“We do have a project right now that was going to be 100% market rate, and we’ll look at that development and try to figure out, if we subsidize that development at $1 million, how many affordable units that gets us,” Mathy said.

The Housing Division plans to replicate what it does with another housing program, and produce agreements with developers that have deed restrictions to maintain a certain number of affordable housing units for at least 20 years.

The county has a “rolling request for proposal” from real estate developers and will prioritize proposals from developers of color, according to a project description report that went before the task force.

Increasing affordable housing in suburban communities aligns with the county’s mission to reduce barriers to racial equity, according to the report.

“Due to a legacy of broad discrimination in the housing sector, not all Americans enjoy the same opportunities when seeking affordable housing,” the report states. “A lack of affordable housing in Milwaukee’s suburban communities has exacerbated segregation and because of historical policies and practices, white families typically have much higher net wealth and incomes than families of color, which creates large differences in purchasing power.”

Foreclosure Renovation

The Housing Division also requested $3 million to fund rehabilitation of foreclosed homes that come under county ownership through tax delinquency. The homes would be renovated and first-time homebuyers would be prioritized

Mathy told the task force that families facing foreclosure would receive a housing subsidy and assistance finding affordable housing. He said the plan would also work with the county’s Opportunity Knocks Program to give people incarcerated at the House of Correction job training at the work sites.

This was also recommended for approval along with the affordable housing funds.

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