Monday, May 18, 2009

South Milwaukee affordable housing complex threatened with elimination, ACLU of WI calls for HUD investigation

*** Update! Check out this article on the lawsuit and the background story featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 28, 2009 ***

On Friday, May 15, three legal assistance programs asked the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to investigate the city of South Milwaukee. The complaint to HUD follows a recent federal court decision finding evidence of housing-related discrimination by South Milwaukee.

Since 2003, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, Legal Action of Wisconsin and the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee have represented diverse families who live in the Lake Bluff Apartments in South Milwaukee. Lake Bluff is home to many of South Milwaukee’s minority residents, and also provides housing for many families with physically disabled members.

For years, South Milwaukee officials tried to prevent the complex from being constructed. Since the 56 units were built in the mid-1990s South Milwaukee has fought to tear this housing down. Tenants are fighting this effort.

“We want to ensure that South Milwaukee doesn’t eliminate diverse, accessible, and affordable housing,” noted ACLU of Wisconsin attorney Karyn Rotker. “Tearing down Lake Bluff will destroy critically needed housing for working families and worsen South Milwaukee’s segregation.” Rotker noted that the last census showed that South Milwaukee’s population was only 1% African-American.

Among Lake Bluff’s tenants are a family who had to sell their home in northern Wisconsin and move into Lake Bluff with their four children after a devastating automobile accident left one parent wheelchair-dependent, because they were unable to find other accessible family housing. Tenants also include multi-racial families seeking the diverse neighbors that Lake Bluff provides, and minority families who left Milwaukee’s central city for the relative peace of South Milwaukee - only to have South Milwaukee seek to tear down their home.

At the same time, South Milwaukee continues to seek federal funding, including money from the Community Development Block Grant program. To receive CDBG funding, South Milwaukee has repeatedly signed agreements stating it will “affirmatively further fair housing,” as the law requires.

“Tearing down a housing complex inhabited by disproportionate numbers of persons of color and persons with disabilities - especially without providing replacement housing for those families - reverses South Milwaukee’s minimal progress towards fair housing,” added Legal Action of Wisconsin attorney Mark Silverman, “rather than ‘affirmatively furthering’ fair housing. We want HUD to make sure that South Milwaukee follows its legal obligations.”