The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OnMilwaukee.com, its advertisers or editorial staff.
With Barack Obama bidding farewell to a semi-grateful, politically fractured nation, let’s look forward to opening a fresh chapter of American history. Few will be able to predict what policies will flow out of this new presidential administration. Now is the time to remain steadfast and hyper vigilant into the actions of our local government.
Snow removal, fees, parking regulations, property tax assessments and general quality of life issues are regulated by local officials whose offices are just a stone’s throw away. If you have a complaint and call your alderman, there’s a good chance they might answer the call and subsequent complaint directly.
Therefore, it should of be of deep concern when those same officials arrive at an idea to sell homes in the greater Sherman Park area for only $1. There are obvious dangers to drastically undervaluing real estate, even if some of the dwellings are in significant disrepair. An alarm should sound when municipal government sets the rules in which it can confiscate private property, affix an arbitrary value to said property and determine the guidelines to whom that properties can be sold.
Those who have deep affections for the city of Milwaukee watched in horror as fires burned in Sherman Park the evening of Aug. 13 last year.
The point needs to be made abundantly clear that residents of Sherman Park did not burn down their own neighborhood. None of what was torched was deeded to the people that call that area home. In fact, a majority of the North Side of Milwaukee is rented property. When we make assessments about the people we see in communities of color, keep in mind you’re rarely seeing the owners of that community but residents who lease.
When ownership lacks, pride is the first to suffer. Does your rental car get treated the same as the vehicle you bought with your hard-earned money and affectionately park in the garage? Does that rented hotel room get the same respect as a room in your home?
Many things resulted from those days of violent unrest, protests and face offs with the Milwaukee police on Aug. 13. The first of many positive actions would be a commitment to address social ills that have damned portions of the Milwaukee community for years. Governor Scott Walker delivered a $4.5 million check to assist with job readiness for those underemployed and housing initiatives. Churches renewed their calls to faith. People near and far held hands in solidarity to make sure a melee like this never happened again.
After dozens of additional community meetings, a handful of city officials then prepared their response: They concocted a land grab scheme for corporate developers to gobble up dirt-cheap Sherman Park real estate. This was the city’s solution to abject poverty, riots, blight, violence and localized misery.
A cherrypicked group of 100 boarded up, tax-foreclosed properties would be valued at $1. The lucky buyers of these sometimes grand, architecturally historical homes (between North 20th Street, North 60th Street, Lloyd Street and Capitol Drive) could qualify for a grant of up to $10,000 to assist in the rehabilitation and repairs. Would a community that was ablaze a few short months ago because of the lack of asset ownership be transformed into an opportunity for ordinary people to taste their piece of the American dream? Absolutely not.
It’s called MERI, the Milwaukee Employment/Renovation Initiative. Made public a few days after Christmas, this plan came right from Santa Claus himself. The community was almost entirely thwarted from participating in purchasing this low value real-estate. Entities interested in acquiring property are required to buy a minimum of five properties with a maximum of 50. The buyers have to substantiate that they possess the capital up front to complete the entire scope of work. Average scope of work for code compliance ranges from $10,000 to $101,000 per house. After the work is completed, the developers could then apply for up to $10,000 in rebates.
Determined not to leave the Sherman Park residents out completely, under or unemployed residents could apply for jobs offered by the developers for $11 per hour. The city only requires the developers to hire a worker for only 500 hours – roughly three months.
To add more insult to injury, the purchasers of the $1, greater Sherman Park area homes cannot have a felony conviction, nor can any of their affiliates or subcontractors have felony records. It's a completely unnecessary clause inserted into the rules to make absolute certain that this program is reserved for handpicked individuals.
Once the properties are repaired and inspected, the developers can rent or sell the homes at grossly inflated prices. Those prices will guarantee the rise in property taxes on similar homes in the area, resulting in more tax foreclosures and a fresh crop of housing stock primed for the next land grab.
MERI offers no solution to the decades old problems that exist in this historic neighborhood. This ill-advised program will not extinguish the fires that burned nor give hope to those who deserve it. There is little restitution for the community. Eleven dollars an hour won’t be enough to pay rent in the homes the temp workers are helping to renovate. This shoddy attempt at recreating a once splendid, beautiful and beloved enclave is a prime invitation for the real urban devil: gentrification.
I miss Obama already.
A year 2000 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Sherwin Hughes began his professional career as a community organizer with the YMCA Community Development Corporation. In 2002, Hughes was offered a position as field representative for Congressman Tom Barrett (WI-5). In 2004, Hughes was hired as a statewide constituency director for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. After the presidential race of '04, Hughes was brought on as a business analyst in mayor Tom Barrett's department of administration-where he certified minority businesses for participation on city contracts.
In 2005, Hughes was appointed as Governor James Doyle's sole designee on the Wisconsin State Elections Board. In 2007, he would become chair. Sherwin was the only African American in state history to serve in the administrations of both an incumbent mayor and governor simultaneously In 2006, Hughes incorporated STH & Associates, LLC a political consulting firm. In 2008, Hughes became communications director for Wisconsin state senator Lena C. Taylor. In 2010, Hughes became Wisconsin state field director for Democrats for Education Reform. July 2012, Hughes became the host of "The Forum," a political talk show on WNOV in Milwaukee.