Becher Terrace, 2011, and Becher Court, 2017,  were built by the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee and a real estate group to provide affordable homes for senior citizens. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.) Becher Terrace, 2011, and Becher Court, 2017,  were built by the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee and a real estate group to provide affordable homes for senior citizens. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.)

Becher Terrace, 2011, and Becher Court, 2017, were built by the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee and a real estate group to provide affordable homes for senior citizens. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.)

By D.L. Davis February 17, 2020

Milwaukee Mayor Barrett on target with housing creation claim

If Your Time is short

  • Mayor Tom Barrett said the city has created 7,000 new housing units since he took office in 2004.

  • Data from Milwaukee’s Department of City Development shows that as of October 2019, a total of 7,261 affordable housing units had been developed since Barrett took office. 

  • Barrett has faced criticism about focusing on apartment units instead of single-family homes or duplexes.

  • The federal grants the city has used apply only to apartment developments.

Seeking his fifth term as mayor, Tom Barrett has focused on bringing more jobs and housing to Milwaukee, among other issues. 

On the campaign trail, and again in his Feb. 10. 2020 State of the City address, Barrett has touted his 10,000 Homes Initiative, announced in 2018, which aims to increase affordable housing availability in the city by building or improving 10,000 housing units within 10 years.

That reminded us of a claim from his Nov. 20, 2019 campaign launch we wanted to check.

"I am more optimistic now than I have ever been about the future of our city," Barrett said during that speech, before touting various accomplishments. "It’s about building for the future of this city. We’ve done so by creating homes, 7,000 homes."

The issue of housing in Milwaukee has also entered the mayoral race. Primary opponents, including state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, have criticized Barrett’s record on housing

Is Barrett, first elected in April 2004, correct that 7,000 homes have been created since he took office? Let’s take a look.

The evidence

When asked for the evidence to back up the claim, Barrett’s staff directed PolitiFact Wisconsin to a Department of City Development (DCD) report. 

The report shows that as of October 2019, a total of 7,261 affordable housing units had been developed since Barrett took office in 2004. Of those, 690 were downtown and 6,571 were outside downtown. All are rental units.

"The majority are apartments located in both newly-constructed buildings and existing buildings, including offices, manufacturing space, warehouses and vacant schools that have been redeveloped into apartments," said Martha Brown, deputy DCD commissioner, in an email. "The total also includes several hundred new single-family homes, and both one- and two-family vacant houses that have been completely rehabilitated and made available as affordable rental housing."

Milwaukee housing changes


Map shows the change in the number of residential properties in each aldermanic district from 2004 to 2019.


Design: Eric Litke, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Source: Wisconsin Elections Commission


According to Brown, the developments were financed with federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits allocated by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. 

Under the program units are deemed affordable based on a variety of factors, but can’t go to anyone making more than 60% of the median income for the area. For a family of four, the cut-off would be $49,380. In many cases, the apartments are earmarked for those making an even smaller percentage of the median income.

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Brown also noted that Habitat for Humanity develops affordable housing for homeownership and those units were not included in DCD’s count.

Brian Sonderman, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Milwaukee, said since 1984 the group has built or rehabbed 620 single-family homes and has assisted more than 700 additional families through affordable home repair and loan assistance.

"We believe affordable homeownership is key to helping local families build strength, stability and independence," Sonderman said in an email.

Sonderman said the city has helped the process with acquisition as well as funding. For instance, the city may sell vacant lots to the group for $1 each. Habitat also receives federal grant money allocated through the city.

So, by the numbers, Barrett is on target.

Is there anything else to consider?

Residential vs. apartments

According to the city Assessor’s Office, the count of residential properties as reported on the city’s 2004 Statement of Assessment (the year Barrett was elected) was 135,352. The number from 2019 showed 137,098 parcels.

But that figure accounts for only residential housing and condos, not the apartments that are the focus of the tax credit program. 

In August 2019, Mike Ruzicka, president of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors, sent a letter to community leaders in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington and Waukesha counties urging officials to think twice before approving more apartment projects.

"Greater Milwaukee is following a trend seen across the country," he wrote. "Numerous multifamily units are being built at the expense of owner-occupied condominium and single-family units." 

Indeed, at the same time the city has been adding affordable housing units, it has been busy bulldozing derelict ones. 

Between April 1, 2004 and Oct. 31, 2019, some 3,542 units were razed by the city, and 3,123 razed privately, for a total of 6,665 units razed, according to the city Department of Neighborhood Services.

"These are not places where people live; and in many instances, removal of these blighted structures spurs additional neighborhood revitalization and growth," said Christina Klose, a department spokeswoman. 

 Our ruling 

Barrett said since he took office, the city has seen the creation of 7,000 new affordable housing units. The numbers back him up: Through affordable housing programs, 7,261 units have been created since Barrett took office.

We rate the claim True.

Our Sources

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Tom Barrett announces run for fifth term as Milwaukee mayor," Nov. 20, 2019.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Barrett plan: 10 years, 10,000 new or improved houses," Feb. 24, 2018.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Milwaukee initiative exceeds goal of renovating 100 houses in Sherman Park neighborhood," July 22, 2019. 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Realtors say metro Milwaukee needs more new houses and condos, not apartments,"August 5, 2019. 

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s State of the City address highlights DNC, drop in crime," Feb. 10, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Thousands of Milwaukee homes are no longer owned by city residents in a massive transfer of wealth since the Great Recession," Jan. 30, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bice: Mayoral candidate Lena Taylor decries eviction ‘epidemic’ despite history of booting tenants,"  Feb. 14, 2020.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Milwaukee mayoral candidate state Sen. Lena Taylor counters Tom Barrett with rebuttal ‘State of the City.’" Feb. 12, 2020

Email, Jodie Tabak, Barrett communications director, Dec. 19, 2019. 

Email, Martha Brown, Department of City Development deputy commissioner, Jan. 16, 2020, Jan. 28, 2020

Email, Steve Miner, Commissioner of Assessments, Jan. 28, 2020. 

Email, Christina Klose, Department of Neighborhood Services, communications director, Jan. 23 and 30,  2020. 

Email, John D. Johnson, Marquette University Research Fellow, 

City of Milwaukee "Department of City Development Budget" presentation.  

OLR Research Report,  "MILWAUKEE’S RECENT HOUSING REDEVELOPMENT," August 19, 2003.

City of Milwaukee Housing Authority FY 2019 LOW-INCOME LIMITS

University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee "Encyclopedia of Milwaukee


 

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