As communities across the state continue to struggle with a dearth of single-family homes on the market, especially those affordable enough for working-class families, community-based efforts have sprouted to help subsidize new housing developments.
In Sheboygan County, where a housing shortage has made recruiting and retaining workers a struggle, several major employers including Johnsonville, Kohler Co., Masters Gallery Foods Inc. and Sargento Foods Inc. have provided $8 million to the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. to subsidize affordable, single-family home developments.
In Milwaukee, an affordable housing project slated to kick off soon in the King Park and Midtown neighborhoods will provide entry-level, single-family homes while also working to address racial disparities in housing that have long contributed to poorer health outcomes from Black and Hispanic communities.
Funded in part by a $6 million, competitive American Rescue Plan Act grant from the state, the infill development aims to construct at least 120 affordable housing units – 80 single family homes and 20 duplexes – over the next four years in the near northwest side neighborhood.
Designed for first-time home buyers, the houses are expected to be about 1,000 square feet in size with three bedrooms and one bathroom and should be priced at around $100,000, said Jim Mathy, Milwaukee County’s housing division administrator.
The houses will be constructed on vacant single-family lots scattered throughout the neighborhood, spanning roughly from West Vilet and North 13th streets to West North Avenue and North 27th Street.
Addressing racial disparities
The county worked with the Community Development Alliance to issue a request for proposals for the project and two developers were selected: Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity and Emem Group LLC.
Habitat expects to begin construction on the first 19 of its 80 single-family homes by early June. Those homes should be done by early 2025, Mathy said. Emem Group will construct the 20 duplexes. The construction timeline for the duplexes is not yet known.
The county is still working on what the specific income restrictions will be for would-be buyers of the homes, but Mathy said a goal with the development is to improve the homeownership disparities that currently exist in the county among Black and Hispanic Families.
“The concept behind all of this is looking at housing through the lens of racial equity,” Mathy said.
According to data recently shared by Milwaukee County chief health policy advisor Dr. Ben Weston, only 27% of Black and 38% of Hispanic individuals in the county own their homes. That’s compared to a 56% homeownership rate among white individuals.
“Housing and health are inexorably linked. Neighborhoods and individuals with insufficient, unreliable or unstable housing are at risk for worse health outcomes,” Weston said. “For example, a Black person in Milwaukee County lives on average 13 years less than a white person in Milwaukee County.”
With the King Park homes project, the county is looking to help not only Black and Latino families, but also the neighborhood at large.
Any homes constructed as part of the project, for instance, will have deed restrictions that ensure they remain permanently affordable. Additionally, the county is spending another $1.5 million in county ARPA funds to make renovations to King Park itself, specifically the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.
The county decided to focus on the area as part of its effort to build a new Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Building on a vacant parcel at 1260 W. Cherry St., while also seeking ideas to redevelop the existing Coggs building just a few blocks away at 12th and Vilet streets, Mathy said.
“We wanted to see how we could really improve the surrounding neighborhood,” he said.
Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, said his organization is excited about the project but more developers, nonprofits, businesses and governmental entities need to step up to help fill the void.
“There is not enough new single-family home construction happening in the city, especially for homes under $350,000. There are very few builders constructing homes for less than that,” Sonderman said.