Foundation and CDA encourage collaboration from all sectors in housing efforts

When thinking of a solution, two heads are better than one, but for systemic change, the Community Development Alliance has found cross-sector partnership is key to success. 

The CDA, which began about 10 years ago with the convening of several like-minded funders including the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, takes a collective impact approach to neighborhood improvement efforts. 

Since 2020, the CDA has been focusing on bridging the 32,000-housing gap among Black and Brown homeowners with its Milwaukee Collective Affordable Housing Plan. The plan includes housing security and affordability measures for renters and homeowners. While there are about 20 elements to the plan, the team is focusing on three strategies to increase homeownership specifically. 

“The first is increasing down payment assistance and homebuyer counseling,” Teig Whaley-Smith, CDA chief alliance executive, said. “The second is to turn Milwaukee’s vacant lots into entry-level homes for Black and Latino families, and the third is an acquisition fund to combat predatory acquisition.” 

With its work cut out for it, the CDA is far from alone. The alliance consists of community funders, developers and allies such as resident-based organizations, banks, philanthropic groups and the public sector. 

Its network includes the Reclaiming Our Neighborhoods Coalition, Take Root Milwaukee, Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, individual allies and more. Its core financial supporters are primarily philanthropy and banking partners, including the Foundation, Bader Philanthropies, Zilber Family Foundation, Northwestern Mutual Foundation and Wells Fargo.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Council of Foundations recently awarded the Greater Milwaukee Foundation the 2023 HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships in recognition of its work with the CDA. 

No fee required to provide direction

For the Foundation, this work means empowering the individuals and organizations who know the issues best.

“We are really committed to centering community voice,” Janel Hines, vice president of community impact at the Foundation, said. “As we think about the experts, those that build the homes, those that provide the services, and most important, those that live in those homes or will be living in those homes, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation has been instrumental in making sure that those voices are at the table and that they're being heard and that they're helping to drive the process.” 

As a public partner, the city of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development makes complementary contributions to the shared strategies. 

“The city of Milwaukee is working to bring residents and stakeholders together in conversations about our community’s future, and increasing quality, affordable housing is no exception,” Commissioner Lafayette Crump said. “DCD is committed to utilizing our tools and resources to implement the recommendations of the Collective Affordable Housing Plan. The city of Milwaukee is looking forward to our continued work together, so we can create stronger neighborhoods, provide more homeownership opportunities for residents, and move Milwaukee forward.”

Whaley-Smith noted that about a hundred people participate in the CDA’s quarterly meetings. 

“There is no membership fee required to provide direction and be an ally of the work that we’re doing,” he said. “Those folks represent individual residents that are interested in homeownership themselves or supporting homeownership in their neighborhoods to retired professionals who want to donate their time to the traditional organizations and financial institutions that you might expect.” 

Tackling the gap incrementally: inventory, credit and systems

“Our goal is to move from losing a thousand homeowners of color each year to gaining a thousand homeowners of color each year,” Whaley-Smith said, but of the 2,000 who are interested, only about 600 become homeowners due to lack of real estate inventory and credit. 

Entry-level homes haven’t been built in Milwaukee since the 1950s, Whaley-Smith said, and prior to 1968, housing discrimination still existed. Potential homeowners are also competing against investors who often buy up affordable properties before residents can. 

In response, the CDA is working on several measures including:

  • Homeowner acquisition fund – In partnership with Acts Housing, this fund purchases properties away from landlords or investors and puts them in the hands of potential homeowners. $8 million has been raised with a goal of $11 million. 
  • New developments – With $12 million raised, the CDA plans to build new entry-level homes with a goal of 100 homes each year. In partnership with LISC, it’ll be building 50 homes for early childhood educators
  • Alternative lending program – This program offers alternative solutions to pulling someone’s credit score to determine their mortgage loan eligibility.
  • Entry-level home requirements – By changing requirements such as minimum square footage, the CDA can minimize the cost of construction and purchase price. 
  • Down payment assistance – This system increases affordability and builds long-term sustainability. 

“Our philosophy is that the public sector is one piece of systems change and can be very helpful,” he said. “But the private sector has a role in system change, philanthropy has as role in systems change, residents have a role in systems change, and we need all those things working together to build these new systems.” 

The best place on earth

As the work continues to move forward, collaboration geared toward collective impact will remain a key factor. 

The Foundation is aligning its strategies with the CDA’s efforts, Hines said, and it’s also aligning its investments as it looks to collaborate, convene and create impact. It’s inviting donors to join in the work through its Greater Together Campaign by supporting the housing fund and leveraging impact investing to bridge the housing gap. So far the campaign has raised $1 million for housing.

“We’ve been able to coordinate efforts to move this forward in and with the community,” Hines said. 

While there may always be a layer of competition among collaborators, the CDA prefers the term co-opetition , Whaley-Smith said. 

“There are these big picture issues that we have to cooperate on. No one of them can do it alone. So, we follow collective impact really closely,” Whaley-Smith said. “I want to make Milwaukee the best place on planet Earth, particularly for those families that have been left out of the larger social, political and economic systems.”