Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Affordable housing efforts hampered by fragmented approach

The housing bubble burst and subsequent foreclosure crisis have brought the need for affordable rental housing into sharp and immediate focus for many affected families locally. However, even before home prices crashed, the rental housing market in Milwaukee did not meet the needs of many households at low income levels.

In the Public Policy Forum’s latest report, commissioned by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, we explore the affordable rental housing landscape in Milwaukee County; what it will take to create a sound and sustainable infrastructure to support the development of affordable housing in the county; and how existing publicly funded affordable housing programs might be coordinated more effectively. Our report, entitled Give Me Shelter: Responding to Milwaukee County’s Affordable Housing Challenges, can be downloaded here. Among our key findings:

  • Milwaukee’s affordability crisis is driven by low household incomes, not high rents. When compared to other large counties in the United States, Milwaukee is not an expensive rental market. Its average household income, however, was 103rd lowest out of the country’s 112 most populous counties at the time of the last Census.

  • Milwaukee’s housing affordability crisis is most severe among extremely low income households—those households making less than 30% of the Area Median Income.

  • The vast majority of Milwaukee County’s low-income renters do not receive public rental subsidies. In fact, public subsidy programs help less than one out of every three extremely low income and very low income renter households in Milwaukee County.

  • The health of Milwaukee’s current private rental stock is failing. More than 40% of renters in Milwaukee County are living in housing that is inadequate either because it is too expensive, too crowded, or, in fewer instances, does not have adequate plumbing and kitchen facilities.

  • Public efforts to address the housing needs of low-income residents in Milwaukee County are fragmented, and the multiplicity of public programs is confusing for both housing developers and investors, as well as for low-income renters. This suggests the need for more unified governance in select programmatic areas to help increase service quality and impact.

Addressing Milwaukee’s affordable rental housing needs will require greater public sector coordination, greater private sector participation, and recognition of the need for an integrated strategy that addresses both the supply side of the equation (i.e. building or rehabilitating low-income units) and the demand side (providing additional rental assistance). Hopefully, the data collected and analyzed in this report, and its conclusions and policy options, will encourage policymakers to tackle affordable housing needs with increased urgency and a greater sense of collaboration and innovation.

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