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Wisconsin Policy Forum report finds severe racial inequities in Milwaukee homeownership

Open House sign in front of a house
Tim Boyle
Getty Images
"Open House" sign is seen outside of a house for sale during a realtor's open house.

Research from the Wisconsin Policy Forum shows Milwaukee’s large racial disparity in homeownership has widened over the last decade. The low and declining Black and Hispanic homeownership rates point to Milwaukee’s acute racial equity challenges — and a new report from the forum adds to this research, confirming stark racial inequity in homeownership.

The report, “Hitting Home: Milwaukee’s homeownership inequities and how we compare to peer cities,” compares Milwaukee with 10 other peer cities in demographics and economics in the U.S. It looks at rates of owner-occupancy, use of federal resources and the strategies used to advance equity in homeownership. To put it bluntly: Milwaukee has the lowest homeownership rate among Black and Hispanic households combined.

"Milwaukee has comparatively severe disparities in terms of the percentage of Black and Hispanic households that own their own homes relative to other cities and relative to white households," notes Ned Littlefield, lead author of the report and a Wisconsin Policy Forum research fellow.

Wisconsin Policy Forum

He notes that racial equity in homeownership is an important indicator of how a community is advancing towards racial equity, and thus, towards prosperity for everyone.

According to Littlefield, one of the ways that Milwaukee stood out among its peer cities is that it's the only city where the Black and Hispanic populations combined constitute over 50% of the city, but neither is predominant.

"So this suggests to us that Milwaukee has a unique balance of diversity here in that we are a majority people of color city where neither group is as predominant as it is in other cities. And as a result, we as a community have a unique responsibility to advance racial equity for all residents, and one way of doing so is through homeownership," he says.

Another key way in which Milwaukee stood out is how it uses federal funds. "Milwaukee stood out in the way that it has used federal funds to support a relatively large number of current homeowners with relatively small-scale repairs, [while] at the same time supporting a relatively small number of potential homeowners with relatively large value investments in housing counseling, or in financing or in building new homes," Littlefield explains.

He notes this approach could be logical due to our old housing stock, city finance restraints and a large percentage of homeowners who are cost burdened. However, Littlefield notes that Milwaukee does recognize the importance of advancing racial equity in homeownership, especially in regard to its collective housing strategic plan that the city participated in developing through the Community Development Alliance. The CDA is a partnership between governmental and non-governmental housing stakeholders that aims to create 32,000 additional homeownership opportunities for Black and Hispanic households over the next 30 years in Milwaukee, according to Littlefield.

"We could only find one other peer city that has this degree of collaboration in its strategic planning process for homeownership," he adds.

Milwaukee has and will continue to have many challenges to meet its housing needs, Littlefield acknowledges, but the clear racial divide in homeownership makes it especially urgent to identify and promote opportunities for Black and Hispanic residents to own homes.

"There are other cities that have a similar profile in terms of the affordability of homeownership, size, demographics that are less inequitable than Milwaukee is. So, in other words, it doesn't have to be this way," he says.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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