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Milwaukee gets national attention for collaborative housing effort

August 25, 2023
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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has honored the Greater Milwaukee Foundation for working on housing issues with the Community Development Alliance.

Since 2020, the alliance – an affiliation of community development funders and practitioners – has led Milwaukee’s first collective affordable housing plan, which advocates for racial equity through systemic change, including creating opportunities for 32,000 Black and Latino residents to become homeowners.

“2020 was when the funders and other folks said: ‘We need to focus on housing. We’re in a housing crisis. Let’s focus on housing,’ “ said Teig Whaley-Smith, Community Development Alliance’s chief alliance executive. “And that’s what was the impetus of doing the plan.”

In June, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, a founding partner and a principal funder of the alliance, received the 2023 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships for its work with the alliance.

The award was given to organizations with partnerships that have transformed the relationship between the public and philanthropic sectors and led to measurable benefits in housing and community development, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD.

A boost for collaboration
“Collective action is difficult but important, and I think everyone involved with the housing plan would agree that safe and affordable housing is worth it,” said Janel Hines, vice president of community impact for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

The alliance includes the Reclaiming Our Neighborhoods Coalition, Take Root Milwaukee and Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity. Its financial support comes primarily from philanthropy and banking partners, including Bader Philanthropies, Zilber Family Foundation, Northwestern Mutual Foundation and Wells Fargo.

Brian Sonderman, the executive director of Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, said the alliance – also known as the CDA – is what the city needed to make strides in the housing sphere.

“Before the CDA’s leadership, we’ve had a lot of really well-meaning organizations and efforts that have had some level of success,” he said. “And I would count Habitat in that category in that we did our thing and other organizations or entities would do their thing. But it wasn’t collective. It wasn’t intentional.”

Milwaukee Habitat has aligned with the CDA’s Collective Affordable Housing Plan to make housing more affordable, and more equitable. Through the partnership, Milwaukee County has designated $4.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help create affordable homeownership opportunities in Milwaukee’s King Park and Midtown neighborhoods.

Since 2020, the housing plan has leveraged over $24 million to advance three key goals of investing in the construction of 150 new homes, acquiring 100 homes per year for homeownership and supporting hundreds of families with down-payment assistance.

Whaley-Smith said one of the CDA’s strengths is its relationship with residents.

“Our job as an alliance is not to substitute our judgment for residents’ judgments,” he said. “They’re the ones that are going to be purchasing homes. They’re the ones that are going to be in the communities spending their time and energy and network connections.”