Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Economic Development Programs available in the Walnut Way community

Here is a quick summary of some of the economic assistance programs available to residents and businesses in the Walnut Way Community:

-The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Administration (WHEDA) has designated the entire area of the Walnut Way community as part of its Lindsay Heights initiative, which connects home buyers with new modular homes that fit with the neighborhood that are built by specially registered contractors at affordable prices. Special grants of up to $10,000 are available to make the homes more affordable to low and moderate income buyers. For buyers with a good credit history, as little as 3% is required for a down payment for homes costing under $140,000. There are also loans available under this program for existing area residents, to rehabilitate their older home with a forgivable loan of up to $10,000.

-The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee will provide rent assistance, or provide grants or subsidies toward the purchase of a newly rehabilitated home, for residents with as little as $15,000 of income per year.

-The Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation has loans available to existing homeowners and investment property owners in the area, as well as loans for the purchase of a new home in the area. Loans are also available to area homeowners to purchase an additional home for investment property within 3 blocks of their existing home for only 10% down.

-Businesses along North Avenue and Fond du Lac Avenue are eligible to receive financial assistance for public improvement and beatification programs from the North Avenue Market Place Business Improvement District #32.

-The entire Walnut Way area falls under Tax Increment District #44, which has a loan pool of $1,605,000 to provide forgivable loans of up to $10,000 for renovation of existing houses in the area as well as new home construction. An additional $2.2 million was made available in 2004 for street, utility, site, and green space improvements in the area between 12th Street and 14th Street and W. Brown Street and W. Lloyd Street.

New Streets and Sidewalks funded by TID#44

The woman who started it all...

Walnut Way Conservation Corporation president Sharon Adams sits with us to discuss economic development issues in the community.

A Brief History of Milwaukee's African-American Community

To better understand the reason for Walnut Way's effort to redevelop their economy, it is important to first gain an understanding of the history of the community. Sharon Adams discussed some factors that played into the community's collapsing economy, so this is just to expand on what she mentioned and clarify any confusion.

The need for labor during World War I brought many African-Americans up north, but until 1910 there were less than 1,000 residing in the vicinity of W. Walnut Street. Though as the northern cities industrialized and the need for labor was high, over 1,000,000 African-Americans migrated north in order to escape hopelessness of sharecropping, floods, and lynch mobs. They were also seeking higher wages, steady work, and more comfortable living conditions. Despite this migration, Milwaukee's
African-American population had only reached 1.5% by 1940. Most settled down in Chicago, but as it became too crowded and transportation to Milwaukee became more accessible, the black population continued to grow. By 1950, it had reached 3.4% and by 1960 it increased to 8.4%, becoming a major cause for the total population increase in the city.

To the southern migrants, Milwaukee was thought of as a land of opportunity, actually referred to as "a land of new frontier" by a report on black employment. This idea was created by friends and relatives who influenced other men to migrate north so they could direct them to employment opportunities. These migrants predominantly worked in factories and foundries. These black proletarians were industrial workers looking to improve their economic position and escape hostility in the south, but racism didn't allow them with much upward social mobility. And as the
African-American population increased, segregation increased at an even faster rate.
In the 1950s, the socioeconomic position of
African-Americans slowly improved. They began to earn higher incomes and some achieved middle class representation.

Immigrants, but especially
African-American migrants arriving in the city moved into the oldest parts of the city because inexpensive housing was available. Also, other migrants who had moved there were willing to help newcomers out in a new environment and many thought they would only live in the area temporarily until they found a better place. This older area of the city is referred to as the "inner core", or for lack of better words, the "depressed" part of the inner city which included both slums and good residential areas. It is also characterized by low income, high unemployment, and other social problems. As for the houses, they were older, deteriorating, and thus less desirable. Some were even considered "dilapidated" meaning they did not provide safe and adequate shelter. The lack of desire for these homes and the status of segregation at that time caused whites to leave the inner core. In the 1940s, the white population of the inner core area actually decreased by 6.1% while the black population in the area increased by 147.7%. The relatively low property values and taxes made living in the area seem less desirable and encouraged low income ownership. Conditions though were not awful, the black community had a wide range of housing and people of diverse socioeconomic status.

Historically, as we think about immigrants in our country's past, newcomers are forced to work the harder, dirtier jobs. In this case,
African-Americans were working the harder industrial jobs such as jobs in the construction industry or the iron and steel industry. They were barely represented in occupations such as printing and publishing, trucking and warehousing, banking, gas and electric, or telecommunications. In 1960, 4.7% of employed men were black.

The late arrival of African-Americans in the job market didn't leave them with much choice for desirable, skillful jobs and made it difficult for them to join unions. Also, the jobs that they were traditionally excluded from left them unable to meet the job qualifications often needed. Inexperience in the workplace forced them to do the unskilled jobs, but many industrial businesses at this time were replacing workers with machines during the rapid growth of automation. Beyond all of these issues, population and housing patterns also were changed by the clearance of homes and businesses for urban renewal/redevelopment and a proposed expressway. The unemployment rate amongst African-Americans peaked in the 1950s.

A study done in 1959 illustrated that nonwhite families received only 72.9% as much income as all families in the city. Employed wives were more common in nonwhite families than in white ones, however there were more nonwhite families who didn't have a wage earner at all. Overall, blacks were underrepresented in Milwaukee's employment pattern.

Welcome to Walnut Way - reaching out to the neighborhood

I asked Sharon to find out how the Walnut Way organization has been able to develop the wide participation and support of the community that it has achieved in the past 7 years.

The organization uses several methods to get the message out to the residents of the neighborhood, including monthly flyers, word of mouth, the web site, community meetings, and neighborhood wide events such as Harvest Day and the Sunshine Market. Even if not everyone on the block or in the apartment building may be aware of the organization’s efforts, at least one or two households, if not more, will be involved. Everyone in Walnut Way is welcome, and even though they will most likely never get 100% full participation, this is what they are striving for. They have often found that residents who received flyers but did not respond at first will get involved when a need arises that can be met by the organization. There is even a Welcome Committee to make sure that new residents in the area get a “Welcome Packet” when they move in to invite them to get involved in the neighborhood activities.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Creating Neighborliness, Creating Entrepreneurship, in the Walnut Way community

Playing a key role in the economic development of the Walnut Way neighborhood is the local Business Improvement District (or BID for short). The function of the BID is basically to collect all or a portion of the property taxes of the businesses located within the area of the BID, and reinvest it directly into the neighborhood through public improvement projects such as landscaping and beautification, neighborhood marketing efforts, recruiting new businesses to the area, and other improvement projects. The BID that represents the Walnut Way area is BID#32, which mostly covers portions of North Avenue and Fond du Lac Avenue. Sharon has been invited to sit on the board of BID#32, and describes it as particularly “energized and active” in creating and encouraging new entrepreneurs in the community, being comprised of mostly small business owners. A central strategy and goal of the BID in expanding entrepreneurship in the area is to create a core of businesses that not only serves the local neighborhood, but is an attraction and a point of destination for the larger community.

Sharon does not see that goal as being merely to return the area to the prosperity it once enjoyed, but to create something completely new and modern for the 21st century, a community that is not only vibrant economically but socially just. Every small business, whether it is a corner market or a landscape photographer, helps contribute to the overall health and success of the entire community. Another key aspect of the economic stability of the area is local ownership and investment. The Walnut Way organization encourages local investment by providing a network of support, ranging from providing assistance with locating properties to invest in to obtaining loans to recommending what contractors to use.

Many homes show signs of remodeling underway on 17th Street

One of the many new homes in the Walnut Way community

In addition to providing assistance to local businesses and encouraging economic growth, another goal of the Walnut Way organization is to provide for the long-term sustainability of the economically diverse community. A big problem of local residents was the inability to obtain loans due to low property values to borrow against. When Sharon returned to the neighborhood in 1997, her 3,000 square foot duplex was only worth $5,000! The improvements and investment brought about by the organization have now provided homeowners with more borrowing power by raising property values. They have also been at the same time searching out and promoting financial assistance to lower income residents to prevent gentrification. They support a WHEDA program for seniors that allow them to take out a loan against the value of their property to be able to pay the higher property taxes, the loan does not have to be repaid until the home is sold. Walnut Way is also working to promote a property tax freeze for seniors as another option available to allow them to stay in the community. For those who have especially low incomes, the organization has worked with the Housing Authority to construct affordable homes and lofts in the community.

Walnut Way restoration "exceeding imagination"

Sharon Adams discusses the progress of the Walnut Way revitalization, and some of the future plans and goals of the community.

Interview With Sharon Adams, President of the Walnut Way Conservation Corp.

“...to sustain an economically diverse and neighborly community through civic engagement, environmental stewardship, and economic enterprise.”

Sharon Adams reminds us that this is the mission of the Walnut Way Conservation Corp. In this video, we specifically asked her to discuss issues dealing with economic enterprise and the strategies that the community is using to redevelop their community. As you will learn, economic enterprise goes hand in hand with environmental stewardship as well as civic engagement. Their economic strategies are built around their effort to sustain a neighborly community by getting all of the community involved in their "sunshine market".

My mission in this project was to link the history of the neighborhood's failing economy with the current economic development. Sharon Adams briefly discusses what the community was like as she grew up. She then goes on to discuss the factors that played into the wipe out of the entrepreneurial spirit that had once existed in the community. Once Mrs. Adams returned to her home in the Walnut Way community in 1997, she was determined to regain that entrepreneurial spirit and sense of community that she had remembered as a child. The "sunshine market" appears to be the neighborhood's strongest effort to not only gain economic profit, but also the community profits from the opportunity to work together and make use of the empty land that was unfortunately cleared for the proposal of an expressway.