Wisconsin Fair Housing Network: Statewide fair housing awards presented
Fair Housing Awards were presented on Friday, April 13, 2012 during the statewide Fair Housing Update and Awards Luncheon of the Wisconsin Fair Housing Network, held at the Italian Community and Conference Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Three fair housing awards were presented in various categories from among nominations submitted in response to a statewide solicitation to over 400 organizations.
A Fair Housing Individual Professional Award was presented to attorney Connie Deer from Legal Action of Wisconsin in Madison. Ms. Deer’s work, primarily involved in the area of landlord-tenant law, was recognized for being a readily available resource to Access to Independence, a Madison-based independent living agency, whenever individuals with disabilities need an advocate for their housing rights. Her expertise in negotiating reasonable accommodations and her straightforward no-nonsense approach to working with people in some of the most difficult circumstances have resulted in hundreds of individuals with disabilities being able to remain in their dwellings, many who otherwise would have become homeless. Ms. Deer has also served on a number of Boards including the Mental Health Center of Dane County, the Wisconsin Institute for Learning Disabilities and Dyslexia, and the Wisconsin ACLU, an organization that has undertaken fair housing cases to broaden the reach of the law. In 2008, she was presented with the Dan Tucscherer Outstanding Public Interest Law Attorney Award by the State Bar of Wisconsin. The award recognized an attorney who has demonstrated a selfless, lifetime commitment to working in the public interest, both inside and outside the field of law.
A Partnership Fair Housing Award was presented to the Center for Veterans Issues, the Milwaukee Center for Independence, the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Chase Bank, the Social Development Commission and Cardinal Capital Management for their work to address a serious housing need among those who have served in the defense and security of our nation. Our nation’s veterans with disabilities have often encountered discrimination when seeking housing. One out of six persons residing in homeless shelters is a veteran. The City of Milwaukee recognized a barrier to equal housing opportunity by including past or present membership in military service as a protected basis under its local fair housing ordinance. However more was needed for veterans with disabilities than just protection against discrimination. The nine partners worked for several years to develop the Thomas H. Wynn, Sr., Memorial Veterans Manor, a 52-unit permanent affordable housing complex that also addresses specialized needs of the veterans’ disabilities. Some of these needs include on-site counseling provided by the Center for Veterans Issues and on-site job training provided by the Milwaukee Center for Independence. The other partners provided their housing management expertise or funding which enabled the success of the housing. This housing facility was recently named as a recipient of a Milwaukee Award for Neighborhood Development Innovation.
An Organization Fair Housing Award was presented to the Wisconsin Rapids Housing Authority. In the absence and turmoil surrounding the loss of its former Executive Director, the remaining, dedicated housing authority staff rallied together to ensure smooth on-going operations of the program. They often worked 12-hour days to provide the best possible service and to maintain comfortable, secure housing for all of the tenants. Employees even delayed vacation and personal time off to keep a strong leasing level in its Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program and to maintain its public housing occupancy level. When the Wisconsin Rapids Housing Authority encountered severe flooding that required evacuation in one of its buildings, its staff carried out the tenants who, due to mobility disabilities, could not have evacuated themselves. Staff also assisted those tenants to find other housing. One tenant with disabilities had no alternative housing, so one of the staff members took the tenant into the employee’s home. The Housing Authority hired a bilingual (Hmong/English) staff person to address barriers to fair housing choice encountered by the limited English proficiency of Hmong residents. This bilingual service has proved invaluable in dealing with Hmong tenants to understand lease terms and maintain compliance with tenancy requirements.