New Berlin - The city has taken another step to end a federal lawsuit tied to a workforce housing development in the New Berlin City Center.
As part of a mandatory Fair Housing Outreach Plan, information about opportunities to build affordable housing in New Berlin will be posted on the city's website along with information on apartment buildings that accept rent assistance.
The city hopes that plan, approved by the New Berlin Common Council last week, will fulfill an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to end a lawsuit against the city. The DOJ now has 30 days in which to accept the plan or suggest changes.
Earlier, the city approved establishing a $75,000 Housing Trust Fund to promote affordable housing in the city, also as part of the agreement with the federal government.
Cause of dispute
The lawsuit arose from the controversy over workforce housing, now under construction, in City Center for low/moderate-income households. The Department of Justice filed the lawsuit in June 2011, alleging that the city, driven by racial discrimination, tried to block that housing project.
City officials continue to assert that the city's intent wasn't discrimination, however.
The city argues that it was justified in blocking the plan, based on city codes. Facing a lawsuit by the Department of Justice and the developer, the city eventually approved the project.
The allegation of discrimination is misdirected, said Alderman Dave Ament, who said the city has proven itself to be open to all kinds of housing.
"This document shows that New Berlin has a long history of approving low-income and very low-income developments," Ament said, "despite how the city and its residents have been portrayed."
Affordable housing numbers
The plan notes that the city contains 2,334 affordable to very low-income households housing units and about 1,767 within the reach of moderate-income households, based on census data.
That data also shows the city has about 7,362 housing units with monthly mortgages or rents that are affordable for households below median-income levels.
To what extent the Fair Housing Outreach Plan will impact the city is unknown, said Alderman Ken Harenda, Common Council president.
With the DOJ approval pending, Mayor Jack Chiovatero declined comment on the plan.
AT A GLANCE
New Berlin's Fair Housing Outreach Plan is patterned after a plan submitted by another city under similar circumstances and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. Among the features of the New Berlin plan are:
The city's website will identify multi-family housing opportunities where developers can construct affordable housing and multi-family housing. The city also will advertise affordable housing and multi-family housing opportunities
Developers will get multi-family housing opportunity information during pre-application meetings on their projects
The city's website will list apartments that accept rent assistance and describe as much as practical contact telephone numbers, numbers of bedrooms and other features. The list may also be posted on the Waukesha Housing Authority's website, if the authority wants it.
The city will encourage employees of New Berlin businesses to also live in the city by providing information about affordable housing opportunities.
The city will distribute information on its outreach work through social media and by sending it to nonprofit organizations providing housing counseling, regional and local housing development groups and other social service organizations such as the Metropolitan Builders Association, Milwaukee County and the Milwaukee Fair Housing Council.
The city will contact four organizations and agencies for partnerships, grant opportunities and writing assistance or to put potential multi-family developers in touch with these types of groups. Besides the Waukesha Housing Authority, the groups are the Home Consortium that helps people buy homes and supports groups that provide housing for low-income households; Waukesha County on use of Community Development Block Grants; and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority that gives housing tax credits for low-income housing. The city also will explore the United Way website in search of grant opportunities.
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