Milwaukee alderman wants to use federal COVID relief money on affordable housing

Proposal would create up to 1,000 new units through rehabbing city-owned houses

Last updated on June 22nd, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Ald. Robert Bauman

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman is proposing the use of $150 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to create more affordable housing in the city.

The proposal includes rehabilitating 700 city-owned properties that could create homes for at least 1,000 individuals or families.

Bauman recently introduced the legislation to the Common Council. It has not been considered by the Council or a committee yet.

The legislation proposes using $150 million the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act. The city is getting more than $394 million in ARPA funding, and to date it has received an initial infusion of more than $197 million.

According to a news release, $105 million would be given to the Department of City Development to rehabilitate the city-owned single-family and duplex homes. The homes would specifically be those that were already foreclosed on because of unpaid property taxes. Renovations would cost $150,000 per home on average. It would provide about 1,000 housing units.

Another $35 million would go to the Housing Trust Fund to develop new and renovated affordable housing in partnership with private developers, non-profit organizations and other groups.

Another $9 million would be used to increase capacity with various DCD affordable-housing programs. They include, among others, the rental rehabilitation program, homebuyer assistance program and Bronzeville homeownership program.

“There are thousands of Milwaukeeans struggling to pay their rent and mortgages, and members of the public frequently expressed their support for the city to invest in and expand affordable housing throughout Milwaukee during three recent town hall-style ARPA virtual listening sessions hosted by members of the Common Council,” Bauman said in a statement. “The ARPA funds are meant to be transformative, to be used for helping communities recover by addressing vital needs. In my view, directly addressing our affordable housing crisis and providing shelter is absolutely what the funding is meant for.”

The city owns a substantial inventory of one- and two-family homes that have been acquired through in-rem foreclosure. They are mostly vacant and in various states of disrepair.

The rehabilitated properties could be sold at affordable prices to owner-occupants or retained by the city as part of an affordable-housing rental portfolio, according to the legislation. Income from sales and rentals could be put toward more rehabilitation projects.

Jeff Fleming, a spokesman for DCD and Mayor Tom Barrett, did not directly address the proposal. He said housing investments will be a focus in Barrett’s plan for using the federal dollars.

“For years, Mayor Barrett has prioritized quality affordable housing in Milwaukee — investing millions of dollars and adding thousands of new residences,” Fleming said in an email. “Looking forward, housing investments will be a big part of the Mayor’s plan for ARPA expenditures.”

Get our email updates

Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.