Milwaukee aldermen approve policy aimed at preventing displacement in neighborhoods near downtown

New program would run through 2021

Downtown Milwaukee skyline
Downtown Milwaukee skyline. Photo by Shutterstock

Milwaukee aldermen have approved a new pilot program that aims to prevent displacement in neighborhoods around the downtown area by requiring certain new residential projects to set aside some units for nearby residents.

Meeting Tuesday, the Milwaukee Common Council voted without objection to support the creation of the Anti-Displacement Neighborhood Preference Policy. According to a report from the Department of City Development, this policy would require 20% of city-assisted affordable units within a multi-family development to be prioritized for residents who live in the ZIP code where the development is located.

The affordable-housing requirements would apply to developments of at least 20 units; that receive taxpayer assistance through various programs, unless otherwise prohibited by state or federal law; and fall within the ZIP codes of 53204, 53208, 53212 or 53233. The ZIP codes were selected for inclusion because they contained census tracts identified by DCD as being at risk for residential displacement, according to the report.

The new policy is being implemented on a temporary basis and will be in effect through the end of 2021.

Maria Prioletta, housing manager with DCD, told members of the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee in late July that if the policy was in place for these areas over the last three years about 60 units would have been set aside for neighborhood residents.

“It’s truly not just through this legislation, but through the work that I think many of us continue to do, our goal (is) to have the benefits of the downtown development not hurt the rest of the community,” Alderwoman Milele Coggs said Tuesday. “And my hope is that residents see this legislation and the more that is to come as truly our efforts to fight alongside them, to ensure the pillars of our communities are preserved.”

The pilot program is just one component Common Council members are considering in order to prevent the displacement of residents who live in areas that are likely to see significant redevelopment in the coming years. Aldermen worry these developments will raise the value of nearby properties, in turn forcing out long-standing residents who cannot afford a significant increase in property taxes or rental rates.

Also on Tuesday, Coggs, along with aldermen Jose Perez and Russell Stamper, introduced legislation that would create a Citizen Anti-Displacement Advisory Committee. The committee would address issues of displacement related to the ongoing development in the downtown area, according to a joint statement from the three council members.

“The development downtown has brought us many positive projects, including the new Fiserv Forum and adjacent Deer District, but it has also raised concerns from residents, businesses and property owners who could be negatively affected by increased taxes, rent payments and other costs,” the joint statement reads. “We believe the advisory committee could help provide suggestions for policies and programs to aid in preventing displacement, and we also strongly believe the development in and around downtown must include a transparent public process that engages citizens and provides ample opportunity for public comment and discussion.”

Last year, the city also published an anti-displacement plan for the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. The Department of City Development created the plan under the direction of the Common Council.

It was created in recognition that “the role of local government is also to craft policies and programs that preserve choice and protect the ability of existing residents and businesses to stay in the neighborhoods that they have helped to grow, should they wish to do so,” according to a plan summary.

Beyond that, a proposal to further extend the Hop streetcar system has not yet received approval from the Common Council due in part to concerns of displacement. The $46.8 million spending plan would fund the construction of an extension of the streetcar to the front door of the Wisconsin Center District and also begin planning work related to future extensions to the Bronzeville and Walker’s Point neighborhoods.

The streetcar expansion proposal was first revealed in early May but tabled twice by the ZND Committee, once in May and again in July. In May, Stamper said he wanted to see the proposal tied to a neighborhood development fund specifically for the central city and funding for an initiative to prevent displacement and gentrification.

In July, a number of residents attended the committee hearing to express concerns over the streetcar being extended into their neighborhoods and how that might lead to higher expenses related to the properties they owned.

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