Milwaukee County renters’ low incomes rather than rental prices and availability of housing is the greatest single barrier to affordable housing, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
With a median cost of $834 in 2016, renting a home is relatively cheaper than most nearby big city counties including Dane, Hennepin and Cook counties. It is also more than $100 lower than the national median of $981.
Still, Milwaukee County’s median household income is not high enough to afford the county’s median rent, according to the report, entitled “The Cost of Living: Milwaukee County’s Rental Housing Trends and Challenges.”
In 2016, a Milwaukee County household earning the median monthly income of $2,631 would have been $45 short of paying the county’s median monthly rent without spending more than 30 percent of its income on housing.
The rent burden affects black renters at nearly twice the rate of white residents in Milwaukee County. Similar disparities exist in surrounding counties; in the four-county Milwaukee metro area, 40 percent of black households spent at least half of their income on rent, compared to 21 percent of white households, the report found.
Milwaukee County has one of the highest percentages of renter households in the Midwest, the report found. Just over half, 50.6 percent of households rented their homes in 2016. Only 10 counties in the United States with similar or larger populations had higher rates of renting that year.
Both in Milwaukee and nationally, the share of households renting instead of owning rose between 2005 and 2016.
While not as severe as in Milwaukee County, rent burdens are also growing in some surrounding counties as well. The share of rent-burdened households in Ozaukee and Washington counties rose by 13.6 and 8.9 percentage points, respectively, between 2005 and 2016, the report found.
In February, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett unveiled a plan to construct 10,000 affordable housing units, especially in and around downtown, over the next 10 years. Milwaukee County is also leading a push to end chronic homelessness and affordable housing was the subject of a major planning effort by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
“On the one hand, they point to the need for policymakers to increase the supply of housing that will be affordable for extremely low-income households. On the other hand, they raise more difficult economic and workforce development policy dilemmas, given that low incomes, rather than high rents, appear to be the primary issue,” the report found.
As a result, many of the potential solutions to the issues raised in the report may require federal or state action, such as increasing access to housing vouchers or taking steps to raise household incomes, the report noted.
The full report can be found at the Wisconsin Policy Forum website.
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