Foreclosures and vacant properties a major problem in central city neighborhoods

Four years after the housing crisis hit, foreclosures and vacant homes are a remaining a problem for Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods.

Despite signs of a recovering economy, the number of foreclosures and vacant homes in Milwaukee remains high.

According to Michael Murphy, alderman of the city’s 10th district, the North Side and central city has a higher number of foreclosures, and as a result increasing amounts of damage to the homes.

“These areas are more susceptible to a larger percentage of (foreclosures and vacant homes),” he said.

These vacant and abandoned homes are on a long list of properties to be demolished. Murphy estimates that there are about 10,000 vacant homes that are to be demolished.

Murphy said demolishing these homes is hurting the city and making it more difficult to find a home.

“The city is losing its housing stock,” Murphy said. “As a city, you always want to be growing.”

Jack West, the financial services director of the Local Iniatives Support Corporation, a local nonprofit focused on connecting neighborhood organizations with revitalization resources, said the lack of housing available caused by demolition is also hurting the city’s budget.

“The city doesn’t take demolition lightly,” West said. “They prefer to see a house rather than a vacant lot.”

LISC works with community organizations to identify solutions to problems like foreclosure, he said. The corporation sometimes directly involves itself in the acquisition and rehabilitation of foreclosed and vacant properties, with funds coming from the Department of Neighborhood Services Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

West also pointed out that keeping a large housing stock is beneficial for the city and its budget through taxes.

“The city has trouble making the budget work,” he said. “There are fewer houses and fewer people paying taxes on those houses, so a smaller number of homeowners are making up for a large budget.”

West said many vacant houses have fallen victim to theft and vandalism. These houses are stripped of copper piping and wires and furnances in some cases.

Despite LISC and the city’s attempts to save these houses, West said, there is only a limited amount of resources.

“There are few alternatives, other than pouring a lot of money into rehabilitation,” West said. “Sometimes it costs less to demolish (the building).”

Murphy and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett have been working together with other elected officials to prevent demolishing more homes in recent months.

Murphy said city officials are working to acquire funds for the rehabiliation of vacant and foreclosed homes.

“We’re working with local banks to pressure them into keeping people in these homes,” he said. “We’ve also received some federal aid to get new owners into these houses.”