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Aldermen Demand More Attention to Milwaukee's Vacant Lot Problem

Marti Mikkelson

Some members of the Milwaukee Common Council want the city to take a more aggressive approach to dealing with nearly 2,500 vacant lots.

Credit City of Milwaukee
City owned vacant lots

On Tuesday, city administrators presented a council committee with a map of Milwaukee. It was marked with little blue dots showing the location of vacant lots the city owns.

Homes used to cover those spaces, but the city demolished the houses after they fell into foreclosure because of delinquent taxes and began to deteriorate.

More than 600 of the little blue dots fall in Ald. Milele Coggs’ inner-city district. She says the lots attract crime and drag down property values.

“I have some blocks with one or two houses on them because we’ve torn down so many. So you have neighborhoods that just have…and I love green space, but it’s way too much,” Coggs says.

Coggs says she’s hearing from residents interested in buying vacant lots, but claim they’re not getting anywhere because of all the steps the city requires.

Empty lots have also been creeping into Ald. Willie Wade’s district. He criticizes the Milwaukee Department of Community Development, which handles the sale of city-owned lots and tax-foreclosed properties. Wade feels the DCD should be moving properties faster.

“We don’t have people in DCD that we know, at least I don’t, that I’m confident that that’s a priority with them, and that they’re even working on legislation, working on philosophy. Just the whole philosophy of the department seems to be problematic when it comes to vacant lots and city-owned properties,” Wade says.

The DCD’s Martha Brown responded to council members’ concerns. She listed ways the agency is working to sell lots, including a new website that lists available properties and a handbook for potential builders detailing home styles that would fit well in neighborhoods.

Brown says the city has also begun selling lots to adjacent homeowners for a dollar.

“So we have a lot going on. The message today is very clear, you would like us to do more and I think you’ll also understand that with staff resources as they are we have to figure out how to increase them with temporary help or whatever in order to have greater sales efforts,” Brown says.

Brown says while selling lots is a DCD priority, it’s put a greater emphasis now on trying to sell foreclosed homes the city owns.

“The Department of Neighborhood Services, the Milwaukee Police Department all tell us that the biggest dangers in our neighborhoods with respect to the property we own, emanate from houses, empty houses, not from vacant lots,” Brown says.

Several aldermen suggest that the city place staff in inner-city neighborhoods, to more easily connect with people looking to buy tax-foreclosed properties.

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