By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published May 13, 2024 at 5:01 PM

Frustrated by unresolved complaints, public housing residents have tried unsuccessfully for months to attend the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, or HACM, board meetings. 

But some meetings were either canceled or changed to a phone call at the last minute, preventing the residents from participating. 

Common Ground and HACM residents have been reaching out to Chairwoman Sherri Reed Daniels since July 2023 and she has never responded, said Kevin Solomon, a Common Ground organizer.

Common Ground is a 15-year-old nonpartisan coalition that addresses community issues.

The group requested five minutes to speak at HACM's February board meeting, but Reed Daniels did not respond and the meeting was moved to phone call only. 

Then in March, residents requested five minutes to speak. Their board meeting was canceled noting a “lack of agenda items requiring action.”

The board’s April meeting, which residents also requested five minutes to speak, was moved to phone-call only.

The phone-call only meetings have not provided the option for public comment. 

Residents rally

Taking a different approach to make their voices heard, Housing Authority residents and Common Ground members held a news conference in April in front of Reed Daniels’ home, urging her and the rest of the board to attend their resident meetings, hear residents’ concerns and see living conditions.

“Since you don’t want us to come to your meetings, we invite you to ours,” said HACM resident Stacy Ream. “Come talk to residents, come listen to the neighbors, come see the mold, the rat problems and the broken appliances."

Ream has been a resident of public housing for more than a decade. She lives in College Court on the Near West Side.

Pastor Will Davis, who is on Common Ground’s strategy team, said the group has been reaching out to HACM’s board for nine months and being ignored has become a pattern. 

“Once is a chance, twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern,” Davis said. “And this board now has a pattern of hiding.” 

He said Common Ground’s attempts to be on the agenda and attend board meetings are ultimately about accountability. 

“Sherri Reed Daniels is not being accountable to residents or the public,” Davis said. “She is not doing her job and holding Director Hines accountable. Chairwoman Daniels: Step up or step down.”

Davis was referring to HACM Secretary-Executive Director Willie Hines Jr.

NNS attempted to reach Reed Daniels for comment. However, Amy Hall, HACM’s marketing and communications officer, said Reed Daniels has been unavailable for comment due to a personal matter.

Commissioner Brooke VandeBerg has been the acting chair since HACM’s April 10 board meeting. 

According to the Board of Commissioners’ website, VandeBerg’s term expired on Nov. 7. 

In response to residents’ concerns, Hall told NNS, “If they’re referring to the invitations (to residents’ meetings) they dropped off for Commissioners on April 10, then I know Acting Chair VandeBerg has been in communication with Common Ground about that possibility.”

She said HACM “has systems in place to address residents’ concerns, and the agency is continuously looking for ways to improve its service delivery.”

“A lot of the work currently being done through HUD’s corrective action plans is focused on that,” Hall said, adding that HACM shared information with residents last fall on the different avenues they can take to get their issues addressed. 

A long-standing issue

For years, residents have demanded an investigation and leadership change at the Housing Authority, alleging lost rent payments, poor management and maintenance problems.

As a result of their continuing demands that something be done, the City of Milwaukee began overseeing Housing Authority residents’ maintenance concerns.

The Common Council also approved $250,000 in funding in October to enable the Housing Authority to accelerate maintenance and repair work and to make other improvements to properties.

But residents say nothing has improved.

Vivian Jones, a Lapham Park resident, invited Reed Daniels to come see the problems with public housing in her neighborhood.

“Ms. Daniels, if you want to know the truth about HACM, come see Lapham Park,” Jones said. “I’ll show you the bedbug-infested apartments, the rat holes, the places where trespassers hide and the locations where people were murdered. I’ll tour you around myself. Will you come? Are you willing to see the truth?”

Residents also urged public officials, including the mayor, Common Council members and state representatives to attend their meetings and see how they live.

“The board doesn’t want to address our problems,” said Roye “Chris” Logan, a HACM resident who is heavily involved in trying to hold the agency accountable. “But we plan to speak on these problems until they are solved.”