HEALTH SECURE HOUSING Health, Housing and Equity
Making people and neighborhoods healthy, affordable, and resilient.
About Health Secure Housing
When the pandemic began a year ago, AHI saw that beyond emergency response, America urgently needs to make all housing health secure. Our Health Secure Housing initiative has established that indoor air quality, free-fast-at-home broadband, and resident agency (information and ability to act on it) are three keys – all hard to achieve in low income, minority, or under-invested neighborhoods. Using a planning grant from a major foundation, we’re building a pilot in a Black neighborhood of Milwaukee. Not top-down, where we bring a prepackaged solution and persuade people to support it, but bottom-up, with a recruited team of authentic local leaders across many knowledge domains. AHI has given our Milwaukee Advisory Council leadership over what the pilot will do, for whom, and with which local partners or allies. We want not the best theoretical pilot, but the pilot that will grow best because people embrace it best.
By donating to AHI’s Health Secure Housing Initiative, you are supporting the growth of research and the development of pilot projects that will help communities better recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. We do this by pioneering research and training at the intersection of affordable housing, public health, and racial equity.
Our current supporters have donated to AHI because they know that our open-source research and participatory pilot projects that engage local stakeholders, like those in Milwaukee, are going to help in the implementation of an equitable recovery.
What Our Supporters Say About US
Miguel Castro Jr.
This internship has already enhanced my academic work by immersing me in the future of affordable housing. I have been actively searching for ways to have my master’s thesis have long-term systemic change and this internship has provided me with the context, location, and network to ensure my academic work has real-world implications. This internship has provided me with the motivation to have my master’s thesis be focused on the co-creation of an Affordable Housing Concentration for the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee rooted in the best practices developed during and for this pilot project.
The participation and engagement of the MAC is important to my work and the broader goals of the pilot because the MAC provides representation and gives voice to the communities in the pilot project area. Nobody knows the needs of the community more than the community itself. It is critical that we work in service of the community and listen very closely to the needs of residents. The MAC’s participation and engagement will ensure duplication of work and research is kept to a minimum or eliminated to maximize efficacy in the pilot project and my academic work.
The Covid pandemic brought the needs for essentials, such as internet, clean water, indoor air quality, access to healthcare, and food security in communities of color into high relief. I foresee the HHEU work having its greatest impact on improving the health and housing for communities of color, particularly during and after a crisis by focusing on the cultivation of social infrastructure and transforming unhealthy homes into places that do not put the health of their residents at risk, and instead improves their health. This may best be done by focusing on the absence of access to basic needs to stay healthy at home during a pandemic or crisis. These basics include clean drinking water, healthy housing, internet access, computer literacy, food security, and access to healthcare to name a few. A lot of people and organizations in the community are working to solve these issues. The work of HHEU may best serve the community by identifying nodes and hubs of social infrastructure and amplifying their actions with collaboration and funding before the next pandemic or crisis.
This internship will support my future goals by providing the network, knowledge, and experience to competently co-create an Affordable Housing Concentration at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee that provides community members of the pilot project and surrounding communities with a path and the resources to become change agents and leaders in their community development.
The COVID-19 Pandemic hit all Milwaukeeans very hard, but it had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. Health and housing are at the center of that impact. Many people lost their jobs last year, making it even harder to keep up with rent. Others were frontline workers and caught the virus because they did not have the luxury of working remotely. Especially in the beginning of the pandemic, those getting the virus and dying from it were disproportionately people of color. This will have life-long negative repercussions for already struggling families regarding health, education, employment, and mobility that the numbers alone cannot adequately capture. And though the federal eviction moratorium (and associated public funding) has been a life saver, it will sunset on June 30, 2021 and is unlikely to be extended.
We know already from available data that there are major gaps in funding and programming that current programs lack the capacity to reach. These gaps often arise from bureaucratic regulations that limit and/or reduce the pool of eligible applicants, while putting pressure on nonprofits and private partnerships to fill the void. Targeting a focused geographic area in Milwaukee will enable this project to better apprise the needs of specific residents in specific neighborhoods. Ultimately, improving a situation means not only understanding the conditions on the ground, but also learning from the community about what assets already exist and how a project can supplement and bolster available resources to enhance local access to healthy and secure housing.
Many renters, especially low-income renters, do not have access to nearby outdoor spaces where they can safely participate in socially distanced activities. This is particularly the case in Milwaukee where winters are long and many lower-income neighborhoods lack adequate access to green/park space. Additionally, the prevalence of families living in congregate settings during a pandemic – whether that meant moving in with extended family or into a shelter – drove up spread of the virus. Expanded access to affordable housing means individuals and families can better and more safely shelter in their homes when necessary, during the next health crisis. Ultimately, stable, affordable housing translates into increased capacity for residents to invest not only in their own individual living space, but in the social and physical capital of their community as well. Securing healthy and stable housing for one person increases that opportunity for all community members.
Much of my academic focus has centered around investigating the relationships between poverty and place, and how our political and economic institutions impact this relationship. I’m hoping through this experience to better understand the complicated relationship between access to quality, affordable housing and place in this specific geography. I have been fortunate to work as an intern with the City of Milwaukee Department of City Development, which is working in more impactful ways to engage residents and communities. My work with the City has been transformative in that regard. But government of course necessarily involves layers of oversight and advancements freighted by local rules and regulations. There is also a pervasive relationship of distrust between local government and communities of color that hampers and dilutes partnerships and initiatives from achieving their full potential. This mistrust is understandable given a history of redlining and displacement in many Milwaukee neighborhoods of color. This internship will provide the opportunity to engage in work that is free from certain bureaucratic constraints to more directly and efficiently connect with the community to achieve resident-driven change.
What I have learned as an Urban Planning master’s student, as well as from my city internship, is that planning efforts cannot be successful without the community driving the conversation and creating change from the ground up. Historical top-down planning practices have consistently failed and further evidenced that residents are the experts in their community. Our job as facilitators is to listen and learn what we can best contribute. The Milwaukee Advisory Council includes critical stakeholders in Milwaukee in housing, health, and multiple other fields, that will help guide the Parks Cooperative communities towards better housing solutions.
My political and community work has helped me to become a better listener and taught me that residential agency and representation are central to enacting true change. Although there is a lot of good that can be done at the local and community level, via smart policy and planning, ultimately there are certain laws that must change to make the city more equitable, and that requires the political process. One basic starting point is increasing the minimum wage to improve the affordable housing situation and wealth gap in Milwaukee. Wisconsin’s minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25/hour (set in 2009 and 1 of 20 states nationally in that space), resulting in wages that do not match the cost of living and leaving many Milwaukeeans to survive paycheck-to-paycheck and rent-burdened. A fair redistricting process could help bring this change about and give more equal representation to neighborhoods of color. However, this is currently a heavy lift given state political dynamics and legislative priorities.
Having little power over these larger processes, localized efforts still can have a big impact through strong partnerships and smart policy.
I went to high school on the north side of Milwaukee, not too far from the Parks Cooperative community that our project is focused around. Working in the city and directly with the community has always been a priority for me. Milwaukee currently functions as essentially two separate cities where recent growth and development downtown largely benefit wealthier neighborhoods, while those in north and near south side neighborhoods continue to suffer from the toll of historical neighborhood disinvestment. It is important to me to be a part of efforts to change this narrative, amplifying community voices and resources to help achieve lasting change.
My career goals are to work in community development / affordable housing to help Milwaukee residents advance real change. Because I attended diverse public schools in the heart of Milwaukee, my “informal” education involved an appreciation over time of the disparities in this City but also the real opportunity to work together to do better. I intend to give back and work to improve the community that I love and that got me interested in urban planning and equity issues in the first place. I plan to do work that enhances access to quality, affordable housing and resources, and in that way, help change the Milwaukee story to one of opportunity and growth for residents and neighborhoods left behind for too long.