Addition by Subtraction: Blight Elimination Reinvigorates Milwaukee Neighborhoods

The sounds of heavy machinery have been commonplace in many residential neighborhoods in the Transform Milwaukee area. Crews from several Milwaukee area contractors have been busy demolishing vacant, dilapidated houses that have put a strain on neighborhoods and property values. Call it addition by subtraction.

In 2013, Governor Scott Walker announced that Milwaukee would receive $2 million in funding to be used for blight demolition projects in residential areas. The funding came from settlement proceeds received by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) over the last couple of years. The $2 million was in addition to $500,000 that DFI and the Department of Justice awarded to Milwaukee under a similar program in 2012.

"Vacant, blighted properties adversely affect property values and also can serve as a haven for criminal activity," DFI Secretary Peter Bildsten said. "By removing these blighted properties, we are facilitating the rejuvenation of the affected neighborhoods and having a positive impact on Transform Milwaukee area."

Removal of blighted properties has a positive impact on neighborhoods in several ways:

  • Reducing excess housing inventory helps stabilize the prices of other homes in the area
  • The empty lots can be used for new development, which adds to the city's tax base
  • Public safety is enhanced, since blighted properties often attract criminal activity
  • Vacant properties can be repurposed for environmental efforts such as urban agriculture, storm water detention or public green spaces

    Using the $2 million in DFI funding along with another $1.1 million in city funds, Milwaukee razed 205 properties under the Blight Elimination Program, according to Ron Roberts, Milwaukee's building codes enforcement manager. The types of structures demolished were 75 single-family dwellings, 114 duplex units, 11 multifamily buildings, four commercial buildings and one mixed-use structure.

    Milwaukee-area companies that worked with the city on the demolition projects were: Anderson Landscaping & Maintenance, Dakota Intertek, Johnson's Demolition & Concrete Service, Pitzka Wrecking, Sonag Company, Spencer, Cream City Wrecking and Dismantling, and Veit Companies Inc. Companies retained by the city for asbestos abatement were Braxton Environmental Service Corporation and Professional Asbestos Removal and Survey Service Corporation.