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Milwaukee renovation program hits milestone in troubled area

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A renovation program in one of Milwaukee’s predominantly black neighborhoods has reached a significant milestone almost three years after the fatal police shooting of a black man sparked riots in the area.

Violence erupted in the Sherman Park neighborhood after a Milwaukee police officer fatally shot Sylville Smith in August 2016. Residents said a lack of jobs and economic hardship triggered the violent response.

Milwaukee’s Renovation and Employment Initiative was subsequently launched to help address Sherman Park’s issues with the purpose of renovating 100 properties. The program gave six developers tax foreclosed properties to renovate with the stipulation that had to hire qualified, jobless residents.

The program exceeded that goal by refurbishing 104 homes and Milwaukee’s qualified residents worked 33,000 hours, earning a minimum wage of nearly $11 an hour, the Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions helped fund the initiative with $1 million from a $2.9 billion settlement that automaker Volkswagen agreed to pay for violating the Clean Air Act by cheating on emissions tests.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said there are many more homes that he wants to see refurbished.

“We want this to continue and we are going to look for ways to work with the Department of Financial Institutions,” Barrett said. “We are going to look for ways to work with the state Legislature and the governor to help us continue to refurbish these homes.”

Strong Blocks was one of the six development companies that participated in the program, renovating 33 of the 104 homes. Carl Quindel, manager for Strong Blocks, said the program has provided great benefits for residents of Sherman Park.

“We’ve already sold some of the homes to owner occupants and have many families in the homes working toward home ownership now, so we are excited with what we were able to do with the city and our team,” Quindel said.

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