By PrincessSafiya Byers
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series that highlights groups and people worth knowing in Milwaukee. To nominate a person or a group, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Spotlight” in the subject line.
Joaquin Altoro has spent most of his professional career serving Milwaukee communities.
But for the last year as executive director of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, also known as WHEDA, Altoro has been making his mark on the entire state.
By providing loans and grants to first-time homebuyers, farmers and entrepreneurs, WHEDA is responsible for much of the affordable housing created in Wisconsin.
“The most common question I ask myself is: How do I use my position to create a greater impact?” Altoro said.
Altoro, 46, is rounding out a year as head of WHEDA. He served as vice president of commercial banking for Town Bank before he was appointed by Gov. Tony Evers in June 2019. WHEDA, which employs about 160 people, reported total assets of $2.8 billion for fiscal 2019, according to its website.
As head of WHEDA, Altoro carries his knowledge and understanding of Milwaukee and its underrepresented communities with him from his work at Town Bank.
Altoro said he first noticed the difference in wealth distribution when he worked as a loan officer in college.
“The people I was talking to weren’t people that looked like me,” said Altoro, who grew up on the North Side. “They didn’t come from where I came from.”
He decided then that the people he did not see in his job were the people he wanted to represent. He dedicated his time to learning and understanding underrepresented communities.
“I wanted to be the banker of the underrepresented but before being a banker, I had to understand the communities I wanted to serve, so I spent time with them,” Altoro said.
“I’m not Black or Hmong or a member of the LGBT community, but spending time with people who are helped me learn how to better serve them.”
Altoro is an alumnus of Cardinal Stritch University and a graduate of the Associates in Commercial Real Estate, or ACRE, program at Marquette University.
Carl Quindel, a close friend and manger at the rent- to-own company Strong Blocks, said he’s seen firsthand how Altoro invests his time helping others.
“When I met Joaquin, he was still working at Town Bank,” Quindel said.” “He offered institutional support to people who may not have gotten it otherwise by acting as a bridge between minority chambers of commerce, small business and the bank.”
Altoro built strong and genuine relationships with those he served because he always did what he said he was going to do, Quindel said.
“I am an introvert, so words never really move me,” he said. “I watched Joaquin actually provide resources to people even if it wasn’t from his bank.”
“There is a difference in talking about diversity and having it running through the veins of an organization,” added Ana Simpson, the director of community and economic development for WHEDA. “Joaquin does a good job of ensuring that underrepresented communities are a primary consideration in any decisions we make.”
Altoro sits on many local and national boards, including the boards of Milwaukee Area Technical College, Wisconsin Policy Forum, the National Council of State Housing, Milwaukee’s Black Male Achievement Advisory Council, Forward Community Investments and Nativity Jesuit Middle School.
“Because his personality is so warm and friendly, people often forget that he is an expert in his field,” said Elmer Moore, a close friend and the executive director of Scale Up Milwaukee. “Joaquin has lived his life with a sense of purpose and clarity that focuses on changing the way people in Wisconsin experience life.”
Altoro said he wants people to “understand what it looks like to provide access and start exposing young people to that earlier in life.”
“As a young person I never imagined being the CEO of WHEDA,” he said, “because I didn’t even know the position existed.”