Mayor Tom Barrett is responding to an I-Team report on over-income families living in public housing while thousands sit on a wait list for help.
Barrett says the housing authority which he oversees is moving in the right direction, pointing to a reduction in the number of people on public housing wait lists since 2012.
“We had about 12,500 people apply for housing (in 2012), Barrett said. “Now I would say the waiting list is about 2,500 so we’ve been able to move a lot of people out of there. I’m very proud of the fact that here in Milwaukee, we’ve got a very good public housing authority.”
There are approximately 2,300 people on the low-income family housing wait list. Right now, no new names are being added at this point in time.
Another 1,500 are waiting for disabled/elderly/or single housing help, while 1,700 wait for rental assistance.
We asked Mayor Barrett whether 71 families we found making too much money to live in public housing should be allowed to stay.
At one point, two families reported incomes of more than $100,000.
Mayor Barrett responded, “Do I think they should stay here for 40 years? No, I don’t think they should stay here for 40 years and I’d be interested to see how long their income was above that limit.”
The City and housing authority says once somebody moves into public housing, they can’t force them to leave.
The national HUD Office is now reviewing policies to see if changes are needed.
“There is no county in the entire country that has enough affordable housing to meet its need,” Housing Authority spokesperson Paul Williams said.
Barrett says a top priority is revitalizing current public housing units, while also looking for additional housing to cut down on wait times.
The housing authority recently secured $30 million to rebuild the west side of Westlawn Gardens.
Westlawn, which at one time the largest public housing development in the State of Wisconsin, is a 75-acre area on W. Silver Spring Drive on the city’s northwest side of town.
The first phase of redevelopment was finished in 2012 and opened up to residents the following year.
The City is also currently working to sell more than 1,000 foreclosed homes to families in desperate need of affordable housing.
“I don’t want to be a landlord and own these houses,” Barrett said. “We’re working with families to purchase those homes.”
The Milwaukee Housing Authority does not track wait times for public housing, but people we spoke with tell us they’ve waited 2-3 years for help.
One woman said she waited 7 years for assistance.
There are approximately 3,500 people living in public housing in Milwaukee. Williams reiterates that 98-percent of people who live in public housing do not exceed the maximum allowed income.
He goes onto say that some of the families who exceed income requirements may still be one or two paychecks away from poverty. The Housing Authority says its goal is to not only provide housing to those people, but eventually help them become independent and live on their own.