By Sen. Nikiya Harris
Without a doubt, becoming a homeowner is imbedded in every family’s American dream.
Homeownership has become a symbol of success and economic security in our society, but lately, it’s gotten harder and harder to turn that dream into reality.
The economic downturn in 2008 put many families into holes too deep to climb out. Six years later, Milwaukee is one of the many cities in the country still feeling the impact of the crisis, as families across the city struggle to regain their footing.
Last year alone, despite 5,000 Milwaukee homeowners facing foreclosure, Republican lawmakers ignored the cries of thousands of struggling families and refused to take action to fix the housing crisis in our state.
While Milwaukee has traditionally been the economic engine that powers growth to all corners of the state, Scott Walker and his Republican colleagues haven’t given the city, or its problems, the respect it deserves.
In fact, when it comes to the housing foreclosure crisis, Republicans have done more harm than good. In 2012, Scott Walker used more than $25 million in settlement funds intended to assist troubled homeowners to offset his own $143 million budget shortfall. Rather than helping get Milwaukee residents back on their feet, Walker pocketed this money to bolster his own budgetary shortcomings.
Republicans also ignored the housing foreclosure package introduced by Representative Evan Goyke and myself, a series of five bills that would have helped fix the devastating problem of foreclosed and abandoned properties in Milwaukee. Republican committee chairs did not even entertain a public hearing on any of these bills to hear how everyday citizens’ lives are affected by the foreclosure crisis.
According to a recent study by the Haas Institute, 40% of homes in the city of Milwaukee are still financially underwater, meaning that families’ homes are worth less than the mortgages that they took out on them. Some families are feeling the pain more than others, like those residing in zip codes 53218 and 53209, where over half the homes are underwater.
The crisis has transformed Milwaukee into a skeleton of its former self. In a few short years, neighborhoods that were once anchored by strong families, renters, and public and private employees are now starting to echo from the empty buildings and streets.
These abandoned and foreclosed homes are a high risk to public safety, with our city stretched thin to beat back the escalating violence and vandalism in areas that were once thriving neighborhoods.
Without state action, city leaders are left with little resources to help these destabilized communities and our neighbors will continue to be left footing the bill. Partisan politics aside, we need to work together to find solutions to provide relief for our struggling homeowners. We need to protect our neighbors from violence and the devastating abyss of abandoned properties.
Tackling big problems is never easy, but working together is the only way we can solve our economic crisis and put the American Dream back in reach.