“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
“Brooklyn isn’t Brooklyn anymore” is a refrain that you will hear from many native residents of New York City. The Prospect Park and Williamsburg neighborhoods of this borough look almost unrecognizable today compared to 10 years ago. Where longtime residents used to live, you see high rise luxury apartments. Mom and Pop storefronts are now Starbucks’ and juice bars. Pillars of the community were forced to move out when development brought higher property values and taxes with it, and now many people believe that the soul of Brooklyn is fading.
This is one the earliest and most nationally known example of gentrification and displacement and its disruptive effects on a City’s character and history. However, in Milwaukee, we have seen this recently in Walker’s Point and Brewer’s Hill with growing concern that the displacement of residents will happen in other downtown-adjacent neighborhoods. As elected officials, it is our duty to make sure that the longtime pillars of these communities are not pushed out at the first sign of development and we are taking action to make sure we live up to that responsibility. As the City moves forward with Anti-Displacement efforts, it is important to understand what this means and why it is important.
None of us on the Council would claim that new economic investment and activity is a bad thing. Neighborhoods have long been fighting for storefronts to be filled and housing stock to be rehabbed. They attend community meetings to let us know what types of operators they want in their commercial corridors and they form neighborhood associations to keep standards high for homeowners. When they get what they have been fighting for, neighbors should be able to enjoy the benefits of their work; not be priced out of the neighborhoods that they fought to change. Unfortunately, that is what we are in danger of experiencing.
In Atlanta, they have a well-formed model to combat this issue. The “Anti-Displacement Tax Fund”, is a pool of monies collected via philanthropic contributions that is used to subsidize the property tax increases that neighborhoods will likely experience as development arrives in those areas. Homeowners in a group of targeted neighborhoods are eligible for this assistance based on their income levels and the amount of property taxes they paid the year prior to applying to the program. The program will last 20 years and then be re-evaluated with the hope that the neighbors will have had a chance to participate in the economic activity and see incomes rise to a level where they can afford heightened taxes.
We are replicating this program right here in Milwaukee. The fund has been established and our partner entities are recruiting private donors as I write this. However, we want to move further than just a fund. Ald. Coggs, Stamper, and Perez are working to develop a Citizen Anti-Displacement Advisory Panel to address issues related to downtown development. This panel would have the opportunity to not only help us craft Anti-Displacement legislation, but to also weigh in on development projects to make sure that the community will benefit. Through this collaborative process between elected officials and community members, we can remain vigilant in defending residents and business owners from displacement.
Milwaukee has long been known as a City of Neighborhoods. Our people have pride in where they live and where they grew up. Each neighborhood has a unique and treasured history. To preserve the character of each neighborhood is to preserve the very essence of Milwaukee. I am grateful for the work that community members and colleagues have been putting in to make sure that we are not seeing gentrification in our neighborhoods. I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration, MKE United, and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to ensure that our community benefits from the development occurring both in and out of downtown.