Jeramey Jannene

Common Ground Scores Win For Public Housing Residents

New policy sends city inspectors to check Housing Authority properties starting this week.

By - May 7th, 2024 06:52 pm
Southlawn housing complex, part of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Southlawn housing complex, part of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Send in the inspectors.

May 6 was a milestone for the beleaguered Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM): the city’s building inspectors began entering the agency’s properties to assess their condition.

It marks a major shift from a historical practice of simply referring complaints to the city-affiliated agency and comes after a broad-based campaign by the advocacy group, Common Ground Southeastern Wisconsin repeatedly highlighted deficiencies in the public housing complexes.

“We appreciate the patience of HACM residents who have waited for [the Department of Neighborhood Services] to become more involved with their building concerns,” said DNS Commissioner Jezamil Arroyo-Vega in a statement. “Now with dedicated staff, we look forward to ensuring they live in safe housing.”

Two inspectors have now been assigned to inspect HACM properties. Both are experienced, internal hires said DNS.

The council approved the policy change in October, but with the understanding things wouldn’t change in practice until DNS fully staffed its existing inspector positions. It funded two new positions through the 2024 budget, but also included an assumption that inspection and reinspection fees could eventually fund even more dedicated HACM inspectors.

“This is a historic day. For 80 years, HACM has skated under DNS’ inspection radar — leaving thousands of residents without recourse when HACM has ignored them,” said associate Common Ground organizer Kevin Solomon in a statement.

“We did it,” said Roye “Chris” Logan, resident president at Mitchell Court. “We kept at it for a year, and it paid off. Now we begin educating residents about DNS, what types of complaints to call in, and how to do so.”

According to a press release from DNS, HACM residents should continue to first report issues to their property manager. But if the property manager is unresponsive, residents can call 414-286-CITY (2489) or submit an online “Click for Action” service request. Much of the public Common Ground campaign has centered on alleged unresponsiveness or indifference to poor living conditions that residents, often with very low incomes, endured.

Common Ground isn’t backing down and is still looking for even more change.

“DNS oversight is one piece of the HACM Reform Puzzle. We’ll continue to fill in other pieces — getting a full Board, hiring competent leadership, closing other oversight loopholes — until residents live comfortably and safely,” said Invisible Reality Ministries pastor Will Davis.

The group has tried repeatedly to be given formal time to speak at HACM board meetings and publicly called for HACM executive secretary Willie Hines, Jr. to resign if the problems aren’t addressed.

The city, however, has limited direct oversight of the agency. The mayor and council appoint and confirm the board members, but beyond that, they have little authority to direct the agency. Mayor Cavalier Johnson has continued to back Hines. Much of the regulation of the agency is controlled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which also provides much of its funding.

As part of the 2024 budget, the council allocated $250,000 from the city’s $394 million federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) grant to partially address a maintenance backlog at HACM properties. ARPA grant administrator Andrea Fowler confirmed Monday during an unrelated housing committee meeting that those funds were quickly transmitted to the agency and the city is awaiting a report on their impact.

HACM provides housing to approximately 5,000 households in its own properties and, with federal vouchers, houses an additional 6,000 households in privately-owned properties. The inspection change applies to the HACM-owned properties.

Common Ground, a broad-based coalition that boasts 40,000 citizen members, said in March 2023 it has interviewed or collected information from more than 1,200 HACM residents, spanning 17 properties, since 2020.

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Categories: Real Estate

One thought on “Common Ground Scores Win For Public Housing Residents”

  1. Mingus says:

    With all of the complaints against the Housing Authority, how come it took so long for the City to take action to resolve such deplorable conditions. Why was the power structure slow to take action when the problems were obvious? The City should establish an ombudsman style program where residents can bring attention to concerns for any agency or contractor who does business with the City government.

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