Milwaukee’s Housing Choice Voucher Landscape: Advocacy, Policy and New Developments

Abigail Lynch, “Milwaukee’s Housing Choice Voucher Landscape: Advocacy, Policy and New Developments”
Mentor: James Harris, Urban Studies

This presentation reports on preliminary research findings from a qualitative housing study that uses archival and ethnographic methods to investigate and analyze a variety of housing developments, policy changes, and advocacy initiatives in the metropolitan Milwaukee region. The study includes an examination of Choice Neighborhoods, Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8), and inclusionary zoning across city, metropolitan, and statewide contexts. Housing policy research frequently focuses on federal policy making and ignores the significance of local advocacy and historical factors to shape housing policy outcomes. This study seeks to analyze local efforts and identify ways in which local context matters. In my presentation, I focus on Housing Choice Vouchers and their significance as a type of housing assistance in Milwaukee. In particular, I examine housing advocacy efforts directed at expanding voucher income protections under Milwaukee County’s Fair Housing ordinance (which effectively bans voucher use as a basis for not renting to a potential tenant) along with responses from housing program practitioners and other key groups such as landlord associations. Milwaukee has consistently been ranked as one of the most hypersegregated regions in the U.S. and one that suffers from high levels of concentrated poverty. As a policy approach, Housing Choice Vouchers have been cited as having the ability to promote mobility to higher opportunity neighborhoods (DeLuca, 2017), an effective means to counter racial segregation (Squires, 2018), and a way to address housing instability resulting from eviction (Desmond, 2016). Drawing on archival and ethnographic data such as community social media forums, public meetings, legislative testimony, and interviews with key actors, I discuss the role these different groups played and other important factors that led to the successful adoption of this policy change as well as the initiative’s implications on housing outcomes and processes of policy change.

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