Sunday, December 14, 2008

Housing Advocate Explains Waukesha Need: Guest Post

This is a guest post by Kori Schneider-Peragine of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, similar also to remarks she delivered at a public hearing on December 11 regarding affordable housing in Waukesha County, a topic often addressed on this blog.


Smart Growth Testimony – Waukesha County
December 11, 2008

In my role as a housing expert and advocate in metropolitan Milwaukee, I was asked to be a part of the Waukesha county smart growth sub-committee charged with creating the housing element.

The State of Wisconsin smart growth law established several goals for comprehensive plans; the goal most relevant to the housing element is the following:

“Providing an adequate supply of affordable housing for all income levels in the community.”

In the year and a half in which we were meeting to create the housing element as well as the transportation and land use elements, I regularly brought up issues important to ensuring that the goal of “Providing an adequate supply of affordable housing for all income levels in the community” was met, such as: determining the need for affordable housing, properly defining affordable housing, providing recommendation that the county could implement, etc.

Our dialogue addressed both the need for affordable housing as well as the challenges in providing affordable housing.


The intermediate projection developed by SEWRPC for the number of households within the County in 2035 is 174,100. Projecting that the County continues to have a similar percentage of households (46.61%) that are extremely low, very low, low, and moderate income will result in a total of 81,218 households in the following categories:

• 15,164 households or 8.7 are projected to be extremely low income
• 23,226 households or 13.3 percent are projected to be very low income
• 25,418 households or 14.6 percent are projected to be low income
• 17,410 households or 10.0 percent are projected to be moderate income

This is roughly 64,000 low income, very low income and extremely low income households.


• Land is costly, limited financing resources.
• Regulatory barriers, minimum lot sizes, etc.
• Home rule – limitations on the county’s ability.

The resulting housing recommendations will do nothing to address those challenges.

The most frequent reason given for the weak recommendations is home rule – the county can’t force municipalities within its borders to do anything…which is true to a point. But I suggest they could do more – but won’t.

For instance:

The County should work with municipalities to study the feasibility of an affordable housing trust fund to assist in meeting the projected employment housing needs. In terms of implementation - this means nothing! Why won’t the county “work with local housing advocates and developers to create a HTF to assist in meeting the projected employment housing needs?”

The other recommendations include terminology that has the County

1. studying the potential,
2. encouraging,
3. examining,
4. supporting, promoting,
5. educating

All important things BUT - How many units for those 64,000 projected low income households will be created by studying, encouraging, examining, supporting, and promoting?

The County needs to take the Housing Element back to the drawing board to develop real recommendations that will create the needed housing. We are in an era in which we need real leadership to help our communities move forward – that’s what the smart growth movement was intended to be.

The last thing I wanted to address is perhaps my biggest regret on this committee. I should have and didn’t address the big elephant in the room. I thought if we just created some good policy for affordable and workforce housing, the elephant didn’t need to be moved. Regretfully, I didn’t want to make the group of all white, mostly men uncomfortable.

Waukesha County and its historic and present policy is part of the reason that no other metro area in the COUNTRY has suburbs as white does this metro area. No other metro area in the country!

The day the housing element was finalized, with no strong, meaningful recommendations, sadly I was the sole NO vote on our subcommittee. I walked out of our meeting with a couple of planners that work for a couple of the County’s municipalities, also on the subcommittee.

They informed me that there was no way that this committee would have come up with meaningful recommendations. The leaders of these communities, the communities that make up Waukesha County, their elected officials just don’t want multi-family housing. Multi family housing I was told equates to African-American residents. Then they each relayed a story from their specific jurisdictions where their Mayor, or elected leader, prevented multi-family housing from being built in their community for that very reason – racism.

I have a Master's in Urban Planning and understand how planning works. I fear that what occurred in this housing element was less about sound planning and more about politics!

I realize the one advantage that I have in this testimony is that I don’t have to fear losing my job to stand up for what is right and just.

Again I am asking that staff take this plan back to the committee, and that committee needs to COURAGEOUSLY stand up to its elected officials for good planning, which includes housing affordable to its workforce and most vulnerable.

Kori Schneider-Peragine
Senior Administrator
Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council

No comments: