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Affordable rental homes in short supply in Milwaukee County

Posted at 6:05 PM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 19:05:56-05

Affordable rent is a big issue right now in Milwaukee. A lot of people are scrambling to find an apartment. For many, it seems as downtown Milwaukee grows, the availability of low-cost housing is shrinking.

The average rent within about 10 miles of Milwaukee's city center is nearly $1,300 a month, according to the website That's a more than 3 percent increase from this time last year. That website reports that one-bedroom apartments in the city center rent for an average of $1,084 a month, and two bedrooms go for $1,480 a month (a more than 5.5 percent increase from last year).

Milwaukee County has one of the highest percentages of renter households in all the Midwest.

The most recent study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found the rent burden affects African-Americans at nearly twice the rate of white residents in Milwaukee County. That 2016 study found the average rent in Milwaukee County is $834, while the average monthly income is $2,631. That means that nearly half of renters are spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent.

"Income is the main driver of the shortage of affordable housing in Milwaukee," Martha Brown, the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of City Development, said. "We do have vouchers through the Public Housing Authority where, if a family has an extremely low income, they pay only 30 percent of that income, and the balance is paid by the housing voucher."

The City of Milwaukee has also been working to add affordable housing, by working with private developers who get low-income housing tax credits from the state to reduce building costs, but the state has only so many credits to give out.

"The city does direct investment in many of those projects," Brown said. "The city often sells land for those buildings and provides affordable housing or grant funds."

Brown says that 483 new affordable housing units were added in Milwaukee in 2018.

"Those aren't just added units, they're also changing the face of neighborhoods," Brown said. "Many are being built on land that is an eyesore."

There's a big push for those developers to revamp some homes in the city.

"They're taking foreclosed properties that they buy from the city for a dollar, and turning them into affordable housing for families," Brown said. "We are thrilled at the development of downtown, but there are also neighborhoods all across this city that offer great and cheaper housing opportunities. I recommend people look at all their options."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will be addressing the affordable housing issue in his State of the City speech on March 11th. Last year in that speech, he announced a plan to improve the living situations for more than 10,000 people and families over 10 years. Brown says the city is ahead of schedule on that plan.