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Housing trust fund of $75,000 is available to reach goal

April 7, 2014

New Berlin — A board to administer the Housing Trust Fund that was part of the agreement settling a federal discrimination lawsuit against New Berlin met for the first time last week.

As part of the agreement, the city established a $75,000 Housing Trust Fund to promote affordable housing in the city. The board that met last week will administer that fund.

According the city when the fund was established in 2012, it "will provide resources for the acquisition, construction, rehabilitation and modification of affordable housing."

The board still must fill in the details, but Mayor Dave Ament said he sees the mission as twofold — helping people be aware that affordable housing already exists in the city and assisting the city in developing a game plan to help people improve the affordable housing they have. For example he said, the fund might be used to help someone with a handicap afford a wheelchair ramp in their home.

Perfecto Rivera, an affordable housing advocate who works for the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), said, "I don't think it's all about bringing more (affordable housing)."

The fund could be used to help low- or moderate-income people stay in the community, he said. For example, elderly residents who brought up their children in New Berlin might eventually be eligible for some kind of help, he said.

But having affordable housing in suburbs where jobs are increasingly located is helpful, Rivera said.

"So many jobs are going west," he said. And a lot of people can't afford the rents or to buy houses where those jobs are, he said.

There is a perception that those living in affordable housing are bad neighbors, he said. The reality is that there is an economic difference but the vision of looking for opportunity and jobs is the same, he said.

Rivera is a business development officer for WHEDA, helping banks give loans to businesses that want to create jobs. He wasn't working for WHEDA in 2010 when WHEDA tax credits made it possible for workforce apartments to be built in the New Berlin City Center. That touched off heated debate and a discrimination lawsuit against the city filed by the Department of Justice.

The lawsuit alleged the city had denied permission for the workforce housing because of discrimination while the city said the plan didn't meet city codes.

Alderman Dennis Horbinski is the housing fund board chairman. Former alderwoman Deanna Liska is the citizen member. The other members are James Siepmann of the Siepmann Realty Corp. in Pewaukee to give the point of view from the construction or renovation angle, Peter Rodriguez of the Waukesha County Housing Authority and Julie Turkoske of the Waukesha County Fair Housing Council.

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