During 2011, my first year as executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), a major transformation took place to assist Governor Walker with his ambitious statewide job creation goal.
Recognized for 40 years as Wisconsin’s housing leader, WHEDA elevated its economic development component. While maintaining our long-standing housing commitment, WHEDA embarked on an aggressive plan to create and retain jobs by growing our economic development capabilities and leveraging our expertise in single and multifamily lending. Our economic development line of business has evolved so that its contributions match those provided by our housing programs.
Resources have been clearly targeted to revitalizing communities. Multiple strategies have been employed: focusing job creation in low income and underserved communities, creating opportunities for emerging businesses, targeting anchor businesses in those areas, pinpointing regions most likely to be successful, strengthening agricultural business, and building on Milwaukee’s manufacturing strength.
WHEDA’s multi-faceted approach continues in 2012 and special emphasis on rejuvenating Milwaukee is critical. When the state’s largest city has an unemployment rate among African-American men of 50 percent and the vast majority of children in poor, minority neighborhoods are forced to go to sleep hungry, that crisis is unforgiveable and unacceptable.
To address our challenge of rebuilding Milwaukee manufacturing, Governor Walker recently unveiled “Transform Milwaukee.” The public-private initiative will focus on restoring economic vitality to areas connecting Milwaukee’s 30th Street Industrial Corridor, Menomonee Valley, Port of Milwaukee, and Aerotropolis, located south of Mitchell International Airport. More than 2,000 construction and other permanent jobs will be created.
WHEDA will commit over $100 million to “Transform Milwaukee” over the next two years, and along with private resources, the initiative is expected to generate $200 million of overall development.
Why such a heavy investment? Governor Walker and WHEDA understand Wisconsin’s economic vitality is dependent upon a vibrant Milwaukee. Metropolitan Milwaukee represents 26% of Wisconsin’s total civilian workforce. WHEDA has always recognized Milwaukee’s key role in the state’s economic well-being. Historically, the contributions of WHEDA, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, have been significant.
Single family: Since January 1, 1980, WHEDA has written an astounding 19,496 first mortgage loans totaling $1.16 billion for city of Milwaukee families. Home improvement and down payment assistance loans have also been written.
Economic development: WHEDA has provided 83 loan guarantees to small businesses in the city of Milwaukee totaling over $10 million. Over $146 million in New Markets Tax Credits have been allocated to 13 city of Milwaukee projects. The New Markets Tax Credit program was originated by Congress in 2000 as a way to promote economic development in low-income communities. The program provides tax incentives to investors who make equity investments in rural and urban low-income communities.
Multi-family: Low-Income Housing Tax Credits for multifamily developments in the city of Milwaukee have been allocated by WHEDA in the amount of $82.2 million for 147 projects resulting in 8,159 units. Loans without tax credit projects have also been made to the city of Milwaukee. A total of 65 loans worth $181.3 million created another 2,378 units.
WHEDA’s Emerging Business program encourages the involvement, utilization, and development of economically disadvantaged businesses in the State of Wisconsin. Statewide, minority participation has been substantial. There have been 48 Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) projects with 417 Emerging Businesses involved. A total of 49 Hispanic firms have participated to the tune of $10.29 million dollars. A total of 41 African-American firms have participated. The dollar amount for African-American participation is $8.47 million. The total Emerging Business participation in dollars is over $70 million
Foundation grants: From January 1, 2000, to the present, WHEDA has awarded 129 foundation grants totaling $2.2 million to special-needs housing providers in the city of Milwaukee.
Clearly, WHEDA’s commitment to Milwaukee did not originate overnight and remains steadfast in 2012. Similar efforts are taking place all across the state in cities like Appleton, Black River Falls, Keshena, Madison, Rhinelander, Stevens Point, and Wausau.
WHEDA’s strategic plan, Be Bold WHEDA 2012, is our contribution toward helping Wisconsin’s most vulnerable citizens, the unemployed and those without adequate housing achieve more secure, comfortable lives. We firmly believe that as we move forward in 2012 our initiatives are the right moves to attain our goals.
At WHEDA, we are proud to supply numerous lifelines to municipalities throughout our great state. Rest assured there will always be anchors for Milwaukee.
Wyman Winston is Executive Director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA).