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Responding to Inequalities: How redlining still impacts Milwaukee nearly 100 years later

Posted at 7:33 PM, Jun 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 16:01:58-04

MILWAUKEE — As the City of Milwaukee, and other cities around the country recover from a weekend of protests and unrest yet again, a local historian points to a near century old discriminatory practice as one piece of a larger puzzle dealing with inequalities.

"When people purchase homes, that's building generational wealth," Reggie Jackson, Co-Owner of Nurturing Diversity Partners and Milwaukee Historian said. "Now, you have something where you're building equity which is the most valuable thing about being a homeowner."

While the latest U.S. Census data says 40.9 percent of Milwaukee's population is African American, just 23.7 percent of owner-occupied homes in the city are African American.

Jackson said this is a result of redlining practices in the 1930s.

"Redlining was a process where local real estate agents, along with the federal government, created spaces and deemed them valuable or invaluable for loans," Jackson said. "Places considered to be places you shouldn't give a loan for a home or business were places they designated red on these maps. What that did, if you lived in that red area, it was practically impossible to get a loan to purchase a home or business."

These redlined areas were almost always black communities. As such, African Americans had more difficulty attaining homes during a time when real estate would have been a valuable investment for the future.

"Think about your grandparents who bought a house in Wauwatosa in the 1950s for $5,000," Shar Borg, a local realtor said. "If they put that money under a mattress, today it would be worth $5,000. But, they didn't. They put it into real estate and it's worth $350,000 today."

Borg is also a homeowner in Sherman Park. She says homeownership goes a lot further than just putting a roof over someone's head.

"It's not just about homeownership," Borg said. "It's about owning real estate in communities that are valued. I can own a home in a community where values are not going up because people with resources are afraid to live there. Homeownership in a community where values are going up, that's the key. That's what builds wealth. You buy a home for $100,000 and you live there for 10 years and you sell it for $150,000. Now, you just made $50,000. Time and again, you'll see those communities are communities that are integrated or predominantly white. Black communities, you don't see values going up nearly as rapidly as you do in white communities. So, it's not just about homeownership but it's about homeownership in communities where value is increasing."

Jackson says homeownership can be one small piece of the larger puzzle of racial inequality.

"If we were able to increase homeownership rates, what that does is immediately stabilize neighborhoods," Jackson said. "It makes neighborhoods kind of a community again. It allows people to feel some ownership in the neighborhood they live in."

That step, he says, can be a benefit to more than just the individual homeowner.

"Schools are funded based on property taxes," Jackson said. "Lower property taxes are typically associated with lower rates of homeownership. Increasing homeownership rates increase property values, increase the tax base of the city, increases amount of funding for so many programs we need. It's good for everyone man."

There are a number of resources available for homebuyers in Milwaukee:

Homeownership programs specific to the Bronzeville neighborhood

Homebuyer Assistance program for city-owned homes

Other City of Milwaukee programs

Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority

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