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Milwaukee Sold 502 Foreclosed Properties in 2016

The City of Milwaukee sold 502 tax-foreclosed properties in 2016, exceeding its goal for the year.

"We're obviously very pleased with that," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. "You can see that we're taking a very aggressive approach to trying to get these homes back in circulation."

On Wednesday, Barrett is attending a real estate closing with Jorge Toto, a homeowner buying a city-owned, tax-foreclosed property on N. 45th St. Toto worked with ACTS Housing to buy the house, city officials said.

The majority of the properties the city sold last year — about 290 of them — were sold to owner-occupants.

The city exceeded its 2016 property sales goal by more than 50 properties, or at least 10%. But it still has an inventory of some 1,300 in its possession.

"We're going to continue to do everything we can to drive down the inventory of the properties that we own," Barrett said. "As the mayor, I don't love owning these properties. I would much rather have families living in them."

The city's 2016 numbers came close to matching the total of 526 foreclosed homes and commercial properties sold the previous year. In 2015, a record high number of properties were returned to the tax roll since a nationwide real estate recession in 2007 was followed by a foreclosure crisis in 2008. The number was slightly smaller in 2014, with 437 properties sold that year.

As the city has pushed to sell foreclosed homes, it has also continued to acquire them. In 2016, it took possession of 855 foreclosed homes and commercial properties, as well as another 130 vacant parcels of land, for a total of 985. That included 272 vacant properties, and another 583 that had occupants living in them at the time of foreclosure. In those cases, the city typically becomes a landlord rather than evicting the residents, except in situations where the tenants commit violations such as failing to pay rent.

Barrett said the city recently changed its policies so it can take possession of vacant foreclosed properties sooner — after one year instead of three — to prevent blight.

"We don't want to go after homes where grandma is still living, but if the home is vacant, what we know is...that it is going to start deteriorating rather quickly," he said. "That means that we have an increase this year beyond what we would normally have, but we think it's going to be in the long run a lot better for us now, before they deteriorate."

Barrett has a Strong Neighborhoods plan focused on turning vacant, foreclosed properties.

The city also recently unveiled a new program, which drew a crowd of several hundred people to City Hall on Monday. That program is aimed at encouraging people to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed homes in the Sherman Park neighborhood.

The $1 million program will subsidize the renovation of 100 tax-foreclosed homes. Those houses will be sold for $1 each to developers or others who agree to buy five or more city-owned foreclosed properties in the Sherman Park area. Participating developers will be eligible for grants of up to $10,000 per home after renovating them to code-compliant standards and hiring at least one unemployed or underemployed worker for each house purchased.

That program has drawn a lot of interest, but also concerns it will favor large, out-of-state developers rather than smaller, local businesses and families hoping to purchase homes.

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