The City of Milwaukee owns approximately 900 foreclosed homes and 2,700 vacant lots, most of which are located in low-income neighborhoods. In these same neighborhoods, poverty and lack of readily available healthy food create systemic food access and health issues. Healthy food can be expensive and, in certain areas, difficult to find, disproportionately affecting low-income Milwaukeeans. A study of one typical neighborhood found that two-thirds of corner stores did not sell fresh food.¹ Additionally, more than two-thirds of residents reported inadequate produce consumption² and one-third of residents were obese.³ The health of neighborhoods has been severely affected by the foreclosure crisis, lack of sufficient economic opportunity for all people, and poor eating habits. HOME GR/OWN re-imagines how urban liabilities, like foreclosed properties and vacant lots, can be transformed into assets that increase the availability and demand for healthy foods, thereby improving health, supplementing incomes through new job opportunities in the city's local food supply chain, and creating useful, safe public spaces in unsafe and disconnected neighborhoods.
HOME GR/OWN is also an opportunity to pilot food waste diversion, composting, and stormwater capture, in addition to improving physical conditions of the environment and buildings. Mayor Tom Barrett is committing City resources to jump-start HOME GR/OWN in a target neighborhood, in close collaboration with a wide array of community stakeholders. A new public-private model for improving quality of life will emerge so that all Milwaukee neighborhoods can be better places to live, work, and play. This is the HOME GR/OWN vision.
The City of Milwaukee's HOME GR/OWN initiative is a holistic, place-based approach to neighborhood revitalization. It helps reach multiple sustainability targets in a single neighborhood, to the benefit of a more sustainable community.
Specifically, in the next year, HOME GR/OWN will pilot several home+lot sales, which may include weatherization prior to sale, basic lot improvements, and placement of stormwater best management practices after sale in collaboration with the new property owners. HOME GR/OWN will include several foreclosed-home repurposing projects to result in new community kitchens and/or learning spaces, where residents can increase their awareness about wellness and nutrition. The initiative will also include modifications to slow down traffic on streets, called "street calming." Ultimately, all the activities of HOME GR/OWN will support greater food production and distribution and generate a stronger sense of community.
Lastly, this initial HOME GR/OWN effort is scalable so that upon success in our initial target neighborhood, HOME GR/OWN stakeholders can expand the program to other neighborhoods of need in Milwaukee.