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Lawmakers Seek Ways to Mitigate Racial Inequalities in Milwaukee Area

April 12, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Lawmakers Seek Ways to Mitigate Racial Inequalities in Milwaukee Area
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis.

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee area is an unfortunate example of how economic decline can work injustices on the Black population, according to witnesses at a congressional field hearing Tuesday.

From its heyday as the nation’s machine shop in the mid-1960s, incomes, job growth and housing prices have fallen along with the manufacturing industry.

As the local economy dropped, so did the fortunes of the Black population that depended heavily on manufacturing jobs, advocates for economic opportunity said.

“The transition has been hard for the community,” said Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis.

Manufacturing jobs have fallen off by 77% in the Milwaukee area from their peak, she said.

Members of the House Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth toured neighborhoods in Milwaukee and nearby Kenosha, Wisconsin, before their hearing at the Milwaukee Public Library.

They returned from their tour to declare that the local economic inequalities were most evident in the housing market.

The committee is searching for incentives to level the playing field after a recent study found that Milwaukee homes in predominantly White neighborhoods are valued 382% higher than homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

The differing home prices create conditions similar to segregation, according to the study from real estate data company Clever Real Estate Inc.

“Inequity worsened after the 2008 housing crisis: In 2007, the difference between Black-owned and White-owned average home prices was about $57,668 — a gap that nearly doubled to $94,489 by 2020,” the firm’s report says.

In the Milwaukee area, more than half of households are rent burdened, meaning they spent more than 30% of their income on rent, Moore said.

“It’s only getting worse,” she said.

Among options discussed by lawmakers at the hearing were tax credits for building or renovating homes in distressed areas.

A second option would declare low-income neighborhoods to be economic Opportunity Zones. 

The zones offer tax incentives for investors who invest in businesses that operate in the neighborhoods. The incentives also allow investors to defer taxes on profits they make from the economic Opportunity Zones. 

A third option would use federal funding to subsidize construction of affordable housing for qualified low-income renters.

Even as they discussed the options, lawmakers acknowledged serious challenges to increasing the wealth of local residents to help them eliminate housing inequalities.

“Inflation is outpacing wages,” said Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis. “We see a gap between the people looking for work and the jobs that are available.”

In response to a question from a local resident about whether any federal economic assistance programs would last long enough to help the community, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said, “I wish I had a good answer for you on how you might not suffer the ups and downs of the annual appropriations process.”

The lawmakers’ tour of Kenosha — 40 miles from Milwaukee — was directed more at reviewing potential racial strife than the housing market crisis.

Riots two years ago caused $50 million in damage to the city of fewer than 100,000 residents after police shot a Black man in the back as he tried to walk away. The man, Jacob Blake, was left paralyzed after being shot by a White officer, Rusten Sheskey. No charges were filed against Sheskey.

On the second night of the civil disturbance, a White teenager fatally shot two other White men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and injured a third White man, Gaige Grosskreutz. The 17-year-old, Kyle Rittenhouse, was later acquitted of all charges.

Kenosha community leaders asked the lawmakers for help to promote trade schools that could help lessen the racial gap in job opportunities. They also suggested ways to make housing more affordable and to address a shortage of skilled labor.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com

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April 12, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Lawmakers Seek Ways to Mitigate Racial Inequalities in Milwaukee Area

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee area is an unfortunate example of how economic decline can work injustices on the Black population,... Read More

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee area is an unfortunate example of how economic decline can work injustices on the Black population, according to witnesses at a congressional field hearing Tuesday. From its heyday as the nation’s machine shop in the mid-1960s, incomes, job growth and housing prices... Read More

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