Developing Affordable Housing and Tackling Homelessness

Everyone deserves the security of a place to call home. Fair and accessible housing options are a basic necessity for the health or our neighbors and community. In a community, state, and nation as prosperous as ours, no one should live hungry or without stable housing.

Why care about housing?

Housing is a basic human right, yet there are people who lack permanent, safe, stable places to live. This outlines the policies and procedures necessary for ensuring everyone has access to the housing they need.

Ending Family Homelessness

We need to take care of our neighbors and to do that, I have pledged to end family homelessness in my first term. Homelessness becomes a scar on a person’s life, especially for children. If a child doesn’t know where they’re going to live there are serious consequences for their daily life. 

On any given night, Milwaukee County could see eighty families in need of emergency shelters. One of the reasons for this is the wage gap in Milwaukee County. Our neighbors are making almost a dollar less than what would be necessary to rent a two-bedroom apartment. As a State Senator, I advocated for an increase in the minimum wage and will continue to work with the state legislature to achieve this increase. 

Additionally, Milwaukee County will invest in programs like My HOME, Housing Intervention Services, and the Milwaukee Country Home Repair Program. Putting a family in a shelter costs three times as much as keeping them in their home.

This is something we can tackle. No longer can we have families living in volatile situations. Milwaukee County is a community, and together we can lend a hand to those simply trying to get back on their feet.

Prevention services

Part of making sure people have homes is making sure people do not become homeless in the first place. When someone is experiencing a housing crisis but has not yet become homeless or they are typically in the process of being evicted or are staying with friends or family, they are classified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as category 2 homeless. Prevention services are catered to serving those in this homeless category. The services include mediation for eviction, help to increase and to stabilize income, housing navigation for help moving to a new place, SSI and SSDI application assistance, and other case management services. Services that work for prevention seek to prevent people from becoming literally homeless and entering into a shelter or living on the street. Increasing funding and services in this area make the most fiscal sense, as the cost per person per year is very low.

As Milwaukee County Executive, I will continue to push for local and county organizations to be trained in the prevention services listed above to best help our neighbors before situations turn dire. Organizations such as IMPACT are in our communities helping families who are facing housing crises. I will continue to support their efforts in helping families regain their financial stability. 

Shelter

If prevention services are unsuccessful, or there are emergent circumstances, people can become category 1 homeless. When people are in this category, they are staying on the streets, in a shelter, or a place not meant for human habitation. Temporary shelter is particularly useful in outstanding emergent circumstances like trafficking, fires, and intimate partner violence.

I will work diligently with local organizations to make sure the people who need housing can get it.  We must invest in more affordable housing.

Safe Haven

Safe Haven, as defined in the Supportive Housing Program, is a form of supportive housing that serves hard-to-reach homeless persons with severe mental illness who come primarily from the streets and have been unable or unwilling to participate in housing or supportive services. HUD will not fund any new safe haven projects under the CoC Program, however, HUD will continue to renew funding for existing safe haven projects.

Additionally, I will support our local law enforcement agencies to receive training in areas of mental health and addiction as they are usually the first line of intervention with people managing these conditions.

Long-term Housing

Providing housing to those experiencing a long-term housing crisis can help people stabilize and make gains in areas of quality of life such as income, mental health, physical health, and education. The main types of permanent housing in Milwaukee include Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing. Rapid Rehousing involves short-term housing voucher provision with light-touch case management. These vouchers are typically 12-months long but can be shorter or longer, depending on the service provider or target population. Rapid Rehousing typically has a high rate of success, with about 80% of recipients not entering back into the homeless system. With a success rate that high, it is imperative that we continue this type of intervention.

Permanent Supportive Housing is for those who have higher needs than recipients of Rapid Rehousing. This type of housing has more intensive case management for those with persistent mental illnesses or behavioral health needs.

As Milwaukee County Executive, I will look to emulate the successful models of the organizations on the ground who are assisting with Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing.

Approximate total cost per household per year for RRH/PSH: $12,000

 

Housing first commitment

Housing first is a means-tested philosophy and model of service provision. In this model, low-barrier housing is provided to clients first, followed by services to meet clients’ needs. A community or organization’s commitment to becoming Housing First is the first step in promoting this model of service delivery. There must be buy-in for the model to be successful.

 I will continue to support and push for more funding to Milwaukee County Housing First. This department has helped hundreds of people find homes and dismantle this barrier for them. We can no longer continue allowing cuts to the budget that fund these services. 

Eviction Reduction

A component in housing in Milwaukee is the high rate at which people become evicted. This process can be traumatic, and cause a family to become either category 1 or 2 homeless. Once a person has an eviction, it becomes harder for them to rent again, as future landlords will probably look into future tenants’ records. I will work to increase mediation services for landlords and tenants, an incentive to not evict so readily, and an accessible means of expungement for evictions are ways that this area can be targeted.

Increase in Low-Barrier Entry Housing Stock

Barriers for people to enter into housing can include evictions, behavioral health concerns, criminal histories, poor financial histories, poor rental histories, and other varied events. To help ensure that people do not become homeless, there should be an increase in housing that is accessible to those who have extenuating circumstances like those listed above. This can be done through economic incentives and legislative partnerships. Another way to increase clients’ ability to become housed is to make it so that landlords cannot discriminate against prospective tenants based on eviction history, financial history, or criminal background. This can be done through adjusting policies.

Increased Wrap Services for those who have housing

Once people are successfully housed, they may have other needs, which can be provided by different types of case management. These wrap services can include, but are not limited to SSI/SSDI applications, foodshare and TANF assistance, coaching and education, and other in cash or in kind goods. An increase in these wrap services is not only the right thing to do to respect the dignity and humanity of people we work with, but also can help to prevent the people from destabilizing and experiencing another housing crisis.

 

Thanks to Wisconsin Housing First Coalition for their assistance in researching and producing parts of this plan.