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RACINE — Housing insecurity is a big problem locally, yet panelists at a Monday evening forum here also expressed reasons for hope.

“Bringing Home Justice – The Housing Crisis in Racine County” was a 90-minute panel discussion sponsored by Opening Our Hearts and Minds to End Racism.

Panelists were: Grant Buenger, Racine Habitat for Humanity executive director; Kaylee Cutler, Racine Unified School District (RUSD) families in transition and truancy intervention specialist; Carl Fields, The Hospitality Center of Racine director of community engagement; Dasheika Kidd, Racine Financial Empowerment Center program manager and Housing Resources Inc. Racine program manager, and Maxwell Love, City of Racine communications specialist.

About 55 people attended the session in person at Gateway Technical College and others participated online. Heather Asiyanbi, Racine County Eye co-founder, served as moderator.

Many factors at work

The panel members were in agreement that there are a variety of contributing factors to housing insecurity in the area.

Buenger, whose organization rehabs homes for resale to first-time homebuyers, pointed to “the incredibly low percentage of owner-occupied housing” within City of Racine Census Tracts 1-3. In those areas, only around 20% of the housing units are owner-occupied. The local home ownership rate among Blacks is just 24% and less than 30% among Hispanics compared with more than 60% for whites, he added.

Kidd of the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC), a City of Racine program that offers free personal finance counseling for residents, said that housing costs are among the overall higher prices now experienced by families.

“Everything is costing more, yet wages aren’t keeping up,” she said.

Cutler, who works with RUSD families that are experiencing housing instability, agreed that recent high demand for housing has led to “insanely expensive rental markets.” She also said that some families who have past evictions on their record find it difficult to find housing despite having a good income.

Fields added that when previous generations haven’t been property owners or been able to accumulate much wealth, it’s less likely that subsequent generations will be able to better themselves.

“A lack of generational wealth also means there’s a lack of generational wealth knowledge,” he said.

Opportunities for hope

The panelists also agreed that there is an opportunity to improve both access to housing and the quality of housing.

“I would like to acknowledge that we DO care about each other in this community,” said Fields, who helps manage a drop-in daytime shelter program.

Love, of the City of Racine, said that Racine has received $15 million in state funding aimed at the Lincoln-King neighborhood on the city’s near north side. Some of that funding will address housing in an area that includes some of the city’s oldest housing units.

“The more opportunity we have, the more we can collaborate,” said Buenger. “I would like to see us be more strategic and have less overlap.”

RUSD’s Cutler brought up an idea that could have major ramifications for those struggling with adequate housing.

“I’d love to see a way in which evictions could be erased off a record in the same manner that you can get your driving record improved by taking additional driver’s instruction,” she said. “People could participate in budgeting or personal finance classes and that would go toward lifting that eviction status that follows them around.”

Kidd added that the FEC’s goal is education for residents and potential future home buyers. “Once you know better, you can do better,” she said.

Just the beginning

Asiyanbi, the event’s moderator, said she hoped that Monday’s panel discussion event is just the first in a series of forums about housing and housing-related issues. She suggested that elected leaders – at the city, county and state levels – be invited to a future event to discuss the same questions and the kinds of policies that can be developed to address those questions.

The event also included a mini-resource fair where attendees could get information about personal finance coaching, the city’s rental property inspection program and upcoming workshops for potential homebuyers.

Watch the discussion

YouTube video

About the housing panel discussion’s sponsor

Opening Our Minds and Hearts to End Racism is a consortium of local organizations and programs. Its members are:

Unlocking Racine

Unlocking Racine is a year-long solutions-based multi-media project which is shedding much-needed light on the housing instability crisis in Racine County. The Racine County Eye, which includes the Kenosha Lens, is committed to serving our local communities with integrity. We are your source for local news that serves our diverse communities. Subscribe today to stay up-to-date with local news.

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...