MILWAUKEE — Rising rent and stagnant wages are a one, two punch for many people in need of a place to live in Milwaukee County. Compared to surrounding counties and peers across the nation the cost to rent is relatively low, but data shows the ability to find, and pay for affordable housing, is dropping.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum released a report in 2018 that found a big mismatch — a low number of available and affordable options in the county, despite high demand from low-income renters.
Fast forward to 2022, and now, two years of living in a pandemic has only heightened the problem. A new housing affordability report from Milwaukee's Department of City Development underlines the challenge of developing housing specifically targeted to residents with very low income, earning $20,000 — or less — per year.
Now, a number of community stakeholders have gathered to craft "Milwaukee's Collective Affordable Housing Strategic Plan." That group says it has identified the need for 32,000 rental homes for families making $7.25 to $15.00 per hour, and a need for 32,000 additional Black and Latino homeowners to address racial disparity in homeownership. The city of Milwaukee has committed to using the strategic plan to align with new and existing efforts, programs and resources and leverage additional funding.
Recently, Milwaukee's Common Council directed $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to affordable housing needs. Some of the money will go to complete the re-development of Westlawn, help renters facing eviction, and rehab city-owned properties for homeownership.
Part of the larger housing supply solution could be undeveloped parcels. In 2021 there were over 5,100 vacant pieces of land zoned for residential use in Milwaukee. Many are city-owned because of a wave of foreclosures during the Great Recession. The city is actively marketing the lots to developers.
The "Community Within the Corridor" has been identified as a micro solution. It's a unique, new affordable housing development that is about to welcome renters.
Que El-Amin, the owner of Scott Crawford, is a developer leading the $66 million project in Milwaukee's Sherman Park area, bringing new life to the old Briggs and Stratton site. "We're converting it into 197 apartment units, 25,000 square feet of recreational space and 35,000 feet of commercial space," explained El-Amin.
That combination has the potential to transform the neighborhood by solving some of the challenges working families face. "It's not just affordable housing — it's affordable housing with childcare. With a laundromat and with a grocery store. It's really creating a community," added Missy Hughes, the secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
The WEDC is one of several partners in city, county and state government. $1 million in funding is coming from the city of Milwaukee's Community Development Block Grant — the largest-ever distribution.
And the Community Within the Corridor project is the largest privately-owned affordable housing development in the state. It's drawn visitors from other major metro areas who want to replicate what's being done in Milwaukee. El-Amin says he's given tours to people from Chicago and Indiana.
The range is $300 for a studio apartment on up to $1,000 for a four-bedroom. The first move-ins will happen in June of 2022. "These units will serve a unique trend to satisfy workforce housing," continued El-Amin. "(These are) people who have jobs who are working hard, but they can't afford the downtown rents. They'll get new, nice apartments in a liveable environment."
There are nearly 200 units that are about to be ready for move-in, but the El-Amin said they are spoken for — he told TMJ4 that there are many more applications than there are available units. But El-Amin added that "Phase Two" of this project is expected to start sometime in early 2023 and it will include new apartments that people can apply for.