Is the Apartment Association against the City of Milwaukee?
After a recent meeting I received an email from an irate member who was offended by some of my commentary regarding the city of Milwaukee, it seemed the association had an anti-Milwaukee tone to its messages. Having committed much of my career to making Milwaukee, especially its central core, a better place to live I was initially surprised by the feedback, nonetheless it is a legitimate question and one deserving of a response.
First let me remind everyone that the association is an all-volunteer organization and we welcome the participation of all landlords (in fact we will be holding officer elections soon so please email me if you are interested). I would encourage anyone unhappy with something we are doing or saying to speak up and be heard. Write an article in the Owner, email me, or better yet join a committee or board of directors. We are an organization of almost 1000 members and the diversity of our perspectives and experiences is a strength we should draw from. That being said I will address this issue head on after first making the obligatory disclaimer that the thoughts expressed below are solely mine and in no way constitute an official position of the AASEW.
I am not against the City of Milwaukee, however I have significant concerns with its view towards residential property owners/investors. Having lived in the city my entire life I have witnessed first-hand the deterioration of many of our communities and the City’s inept response to address this crisis. A common refrain cited for this decline is absentee landlords who allow their properties to fall into disrepair and if only we could force them to be accountable our problems would be solved. While there is some truth to this it would be tantamount to saying our City’s larger decline is due solely to shifting macro-economic trends that decimated American manufacturing. While it is certainly part of the issue, a narrow focus on either cause over simplifies the problem at hand and leaves one ill equipped to develop effective solutions to address the problem.
Are absentee landlords who neglect their properties an issue in many communities? Absolutely but maintaining your property and being responsible to your neighbors should be a standard imposed on every property owner including owner occupied buildings. Focusing exclusively on landlords obfuscates the true nature of the problem and does nothing to solve it. This is a fundamental flaw in the thinking at city hall and has done as much to harm property values in the city as the financial crisis.
In my early 20’s I bought a house in Lindsay Heights that I did a first rate renovation on and was proud to call home. After years of battling with neighbors from hell, who were owner occupants, and receiving no succor from DNS, my alderman, or anyone else at city hall I rented out the property and moved to the suburbs. Ironically had this very property been subjected to the same standards of compliance as non-owner occupied properties in Lindsay Heights, I would probably still be living in the city of Milwaukee.
Further evidence of the City’s “tolerance” for landlords is their response to their growing portfolio of tax foreclosed properties. City hall has proposed a variety of creative solutions to deal with this problem including allowing tenants to use their Section 8 check to pay the mortgage the city would carry. Ironically very few of their solutions involve investors and established landlords within the city. Ponder this, our association alone as the wherewithal to buy every last city owned property and turn them back into productive assets, yet the city has not reached out to us once to have a serious conversation about how to make that happen.
It is clear to me as an investor that the city does not view our industry as a strategic partner in which to work hand and hand to deliver low cost, high quality housing to its residents. It is a position that has led to disastrous results in many of our neighborhoods; one can only hope they understand the definition of insanity: doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting a different result.
In conclusion Joe Dahl loves the city of Milwaukee and will stand next to any person and compare my investment and efforts to make it a better place. However I am very troubled by our leadership and its “tolerance” of landlords. It is my desire to see Milwaukee thrive, yet I am not naïve enough to ignore what happened to our counterpart in Michigan. It is my sincere hope the city recognizes it needs all hands on deck to achieve the former and avoid the latter……and yes city hall that includes landlords!