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For years, the Milwaukee metro area has had a reputation as one of the most segregated in the United States.How did this complex problem come about, and why does it endure? How does it contribute to persistent poverty? Are there ways to break through the boundaries?WUWM seeks answers to those questions in our Project Milwaukee: Segregation Matters series.

Waukesha County Reaches Settlement Over Housing Discrimination

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Kenishirotie, flickr
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Studies show that the metropolitan Milwaukee area is the most segregated in the country. While the city of Milwaukee is majority minority, the surrounding suburban areas are largely white, and some groups contend that it’s this way by design. Back in 2011, The Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council filed a complaint against Waukesha County, alleging housing discrimination on the basis of race. That complaint was settled just recently after nearly six years.

The complaint dates back to the period between 2006 and 2011. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, or MMFHC, alleges that Waukesha County dispersed more than $12 million in federal funds without ensuring that it provided affordable housing.

“No one should pay more than 30 percent of their household income for housing. And so, there are areas of Southeastern Wisconsin, and Waukesha County is probably one of a couple really significant examples where virtually all of the housing is unaffordable unless you’re extremely high income,” Attorney Rock Pledl says. He helped represent the council.

Pledl says the problem was that Waukesha County was not following federal law, which called for communities that receive HUD money to “affirmatively further” fair housing.

“The affirmatively furthering Fair Housing obligation means that each community that receives federal funds, they are supposed to look at their zoning laws and other land use laws and try and figure out whether they create an obstacle to people of color and families moving into their community,” he says.

Pledl says municipalities within Waukesha County were not only failing to address housing obstacles, but some were creating them and therefore keeping people of color out.

“They were actually turning down requests for affordable housing and some of the other communities weren’t doing that, but they had inherited zoning laws that kept out affordable housing and they hadn’t done anything about it,” he says.

Erik Weidig, corporation council for Waukesha County, says, “Those were of course allegations that the county denied then and continues to deny now."

He says Waukesha County is welcoming. “We’ve consistently followed what are the requirements. We have various agreements with our participating municipalities as to how the programs are supposed to work and we fulfill those obligations. The Fair Housing Council, and again, you have to remember we’re dealing with decades old allegations, so the county has and is always, in all aspects, striving to continuously improve our processes. And we are continuing to do that and doing that with this agreement as well."

The agreement calls for Waukesha County to collaborate with local governments in the region to produce an annual assessment of fair housing. It would identify public and private impediments that limit housing choices, and offer an action plan to correct problems.

The settlement also calls for each municipality in Waukesha County that receives HUD dollars to track their impediments and progress. The hope of parties involved is that more people of color can live where they choose.

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