When property taxes increase, the likelihood of displacement does as well. This reality is all too familiar to those who live in Milwaukee neighborhoods such as Halyard Park, Harambee, Brewer’s Hill, and Walker’s Point. It is this issue at the heart of MKE United’s Anti-Displacement Fund. The fund, launched in late 2019, is a direct response to community concerns about displacement in the neighborhoods surrounding Milwaukee’s downtown.

MKE United is a collaborative initiative that includes the Greater Milwaukee Committee, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, LISC Milwaukee, Urban League of Milwaukee, and the city of Milwaukee. The cross-sector partnership has raised $500,000 to support the fund, from private and philanthropic community donations.

One recipient of the fund, Sherman Dixon, a resident of the Southern portion of the Harambee neighborhood, shared “It was like it was sent from heaven. It really helped me. This type of help is needed more than ever due to the tax increases me and my neighbors are seeing.” Another program participant, Cynthia Howze, cited the anti-displacement fund as giving her a lifeline to stay in her home.

The five-year pilot, only the second fund its type in the nation, is designed to address homeowners with the highest risk of displacement. To be eligible for the fund residents must meet the income requirements and have owned (or inherited) their home since Jan. 1, 2015. Additional requirements include being current on real estate taxes and not in foreclosure.

The fund awarded the first grants in early 2020, approving 111 qualifying homeowners and assisting 86 with funding to pay the gap between their 2018 tax bill and 2019 taxes. Assistance ranged from $15 to $1,832 with an average payment of $435. Demographic data indicates that 56 percent of participants were 62 and older.

The impact of the fund has been positive, but it is recognized that the anti-displacement fund is simply one tool to prevent displacement. MKE United recognizes much more is needed to help prevent displacement and impact the existing structural issues.

The fund was created in response to requests from residents, local elected officials, and the City of Milwaukee, and was informed by the city of Milwaukee’s Anti-Displacement Plan. The original funding was raised in three months due to the urgent concerns and pressing timeline to launch before last year’s tax cycle. It has been a valuable tool in supporting homeowners at the highest risk of being displaced due to increasing property taxes in areas seeing the most significant tax increases due to market development in the downtown.

MKE United continues to advocate to the State of Wisconsin for flexibility for local solutions to reduce the reliance on property tax. The initiative is also exploring shared ownership investment models to support community control and wealth generation when properties do appreciate.

This is not something one sector, collaboration, or partner can address alone. We invite other partners to work with us and the city to implement additional displacement prevention measures. MKE United is committed to the neighborhoods surrounding Milwaukee’s downtown and their current residents, as we continue to listen and act upon the needs of the community and explore opportunities for stability, wealth-building, and displacement prevention.

MKE United is a comprehensive planning process working to develop and implement a shared and inclusive vision for Downtown Milwaukee and its adjacent neighborhoods.

Contributors to the Anti-Displacement Fund include: American Family Insurance, Bader Philanthropies, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Kahler Slater, Kohl Philanthropies, RINKA, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Bucks Foundation, and Zilber Family Foundation.