There is a pilot project in the works in the City of Milwaukee to develop modular, affordable housing on city-owned vacant lots.
If successful, the project could begin to address the “jack-o’-lantern” effect, or patchwork of houses surrounded by vacant lots, created in some neighborhoods while also producing reasonably-priced homes.[caption id="attachment_352516" align="alignnone" width="770"] Dozens of vacant lots at North 15th Street and West Meinecke Avenue give the neighborhood a “jack-o’-lantern” effect.[/caption]
The project is in its infancy. It is also one of many being discussed at the city level since Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called for the construction of 10,000 affordable housing units, especially in and around downtown, over the next 10 years, during his annual State of the City address in February.
Former Alderman Jim Bohl began leading the modular homes project in early May.
He resigned from his aldermanic seat on May 24 to take a position in Barrett’s administration as the city’s legislative fiscal manager in the Intergovernmental Relations Division.
Bohl knows he is up against a lot of obstacles with the modular home idea: Who will develop the homes? Where will they be located? Will the city run a rent-to-own program? Who will own them?
But as of April 2018, the city owned 2,956 vacant residential lots. And many city residents are looking for affordable housing options.
Bohl wanted to get something down on paper and modular homes (pre-fabricated houses without basements or a foundation), cost less than building from the ground up.
“This is something I wish I was going to be around longer to help shape, but I wanted to get the ball rolling,” Bohl said. “What we do know is there are too many significant gaps. We are not in a situation like Detroit or Gary, Indiana, but we know we need quality affordable housing in the city.”
Aldermen Russell Stamper, who represents the Sherman Park neighborhood and a portion of the city’s north side, and Jose Perez, who represents the Walker’s Point neighborhood and a portion of the city’s south side, are on an ad hoc committee evaluating the program.
Neither returned phone calls or emails seeking comment for this report.
The group has met with Oregon, Wisconsin-based developer Gorman & Co. LLC, Habitat for Humanity and Travaux Inc., the real estate development arm of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee.
“Our desire is to build off our community assets,” Bohl said. “Where we have a number of properties, fairly close by that would make these developments conducive to the builder, but at this point, we also don’t want to set expectations too high.”
The program is not a direct result of Barrett’s February call for 10,000 more affordable housing units, but would run parallel to it, Bohl said.
“It fits the commitment the mayor expressed and a commitment that is shared by the (Common) Council to provide more affordable housing,” Bohl said. “If we are able to do something like this and it proves to be productive, it is worth coming together to discuss.”
In February, Barrett said he wants to work with private developers to ensure downtown Milwaukee is not exclusively a place for people with higher incomes to live.
The mayor is ready to commit tax increment financing to incentivize the creation of thousands of affordable housing units over the next decade, something the city does not typically do for residential housing developments.
Besides using TIF money, Barrett said he also wants to expand the STRONG Home Loans Program, a city program that issues partially forgivable loans for home repair.