Partners creating citywide affordable housing plan

Although everyone in our community deserves an affordable, dependable home, too many in Milwaukee lack access to housing they can afford, rely on or invest in, and Black and Brown residents are those most frequently left out. That is why the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s commitment to an inclusive, thriving Milwaukee for all includes working to put more stable housing options within reach, increasing homeownership rates and decreasing eviction rates in key neighborhoods.

To achieve this goal, the Foundation is working collaboratively with vital private and public partners through the Community Development Alliance (CDA), which, for more than a decade, has led programs concentrated on neighborhood leadership, resident-led efforts and building neighborhood capacity. The CDA’s funding members include the Foundation, City of Milwaukee, Bader Philanthropies, Northwestern Mutual Foundation and Zilber Family Foundation. In 2020, the CDA, joined by key housing partners including the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, adapted its efforts to focus on quality, affordable housing for all Milwaukee residents. 

The partners are now working to create the first-ever, citywide affordable housing strategy.

“As a founding member and funding partner in the CDA, the Foundation is committed to helping transform the housing system so people and families in our communities can thrive,” said Janel Hines, vice president of community impact for the Foundation. “This effort is bringing philanthropy together with corporate, government, nonprofit and other community sectors around a common set of goals, informed by data and residents’ voices. With each of us contributing according to our strengths, we can ensure more of our neighbors can access the dignified housing they deserve.”

Solutions aimed at systems

Research shows significant racial equity gaps in the housing sector. Black families in Milwaukee have the second lowest homeownership rate in the nation. There is an estimated shortage of 32,000 affordable rental units and 30,000 homeownership units in the city. According to Wisconsin Policy Forum’s most recent housing study, housing development is widely viewed as the housing strategy most in need of increased financial support.

After reviewing dozens of resident-led neighborhood revitalization plans, survey data and other housing-related research, as well as involving residents in the data collection process, the CDA has identified the following as its priority areas of focus: 

  • Addressing the Black and Brown homeownership gap by producing additional units, promoting homeownership and assisting residents through the purchasing process. 
  • Maintaining existing Black and Brown homeowners through homeownership preservation and anti-displacement programs. 
  • Increasing the supply of quality, affordable housing units for residents making between $7.25 to $15 per hour. 
  • Identifying ways to preserve existing units for residents making between $7.25 to $15 per hour as well as anti-displacement and eviction reduction strategies.

“We continue to see disparities in housing because racism is still present in today’s housing system,” said Ellen Gilligan, Foundation president and CEO. “Unless we want our region and its economy to miss out on the contributions of everyone, we need to support affordable housing and increase housing equity as a path for Black and Brown people – and all people – to build long-term wealth and prosperity.”

Aligning individual efforts

Each member and affiliate of the CDA is already connected to housing efforts in Milwaukee through investments, partnerships or direct resident support. 

For example, the Foundation invests in a range of connected housing strategies including pathways to homeownership; eviction prevention; and displacement prevention. Over the last three years, the Foundation has provided over $1.3 million in grants for housing stability to such organizations as the Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Revitalize Milwaukee, Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, ACTS Housing and many more. Foundation donors also are passionate about supporting housing solutions. Through their donor advised funds, these philanthropists have made nearly 100 grants totaling close to $800,000 over the last three years to nonprofits of their choice that focus on housing issues.

The CDA’s shared strategy aims to build on the strengths of such existing efforts to drive deeper, more coordinated impact throughout the city.

Moving from planning to implementation

The CDA is currently developing specific strategies to address its priorities while continuing to evaluate new data and engage key stakeholders. Once the strategies are finalized, the team will begin an implementation planning process, with a goal to begin executing on the strategy starting in 2022. 

“Housing stability is not a standalone issue; it plays a role in so many other quality of life indicators, including employment and overall health and well-being. Milwaukee has a unique housing problem in need of a solution,” said Gina Stilp, CDA chair and executive director of the Zilber Family Foundation. “By developing a shared approach, goals and accountability, we are on track to realizing sustained and meaningful impact for Milwaukee residents.”