Wisconsin Fair Housing Network: Awards annual fair housing awards

Contact: Dan Stotmeister

Annual Fair Housing Awards were presented on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 during the statewide A Home For Everyone Conference of the Wisconsin Collaborative for Affordable Housing and the Wisconsin Fair Housing Network, held at the Radisson Hotel in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Two fair housing awards were presented from nominations submitted in response to a statewide solicitation to over 400 organizations.

A Fair Housing Individual Award (recognizing exemplary performance by a volunteer, researcher, elected official or professional) was presented to Mr. Gary White of PyraMax Bank in Greenfield, Wisconsin for his efforts in promoting and increasing homeownership in Milwaukee inner city neighborhoods. In response to the home foreclosure crisis affecting these areas, Mr. White spearheaded the creation of a program by PyraMax Bank to allocate $1 million to rehab city foreclosed homes in those neighborhoods to make them attractive to home buyers. He also convinced the bank to partner with WHEDA, the state’s independent lending authority, to become the sole private lender for a pilot program to enable first time homebuyers to purchase homes in these neighborhoods. Through his leadership during the past 18 months, PyraMax has provided close to $1 million in grants to homebuyers, over half going to minority borrowers. Gary White also worked with a number of non-profit agencies to reduce the homeownership gap between Milwaukee’s minority and non-minority households. In the past year he conducted outreach and homebuyer education in Milwaukee’s central city along with several housing counseling agencies. Mr. White’s involvement in these services has been primarily as a volunteer, including Saturdays, apart from his position at the bank.

A Fair Housing Organization Award (recognizing a group that made conspicuous and effective progress towards furthering fair housing in the community) was presented to the City of Madison Department of Civil Rights Equal Opportunities Division. The Madison Equal Opportunities Division is charged with implementing the City of Madison’s fair housing ordnance. The Division has a history of regularly analyzing groups whose members are encountering barriers in their housing choice with a goal to upgrade local ordinance coverage, as necessary, to address newly identified equal housing opportunity challenges. As a result, Madison has one of most extensive protected bases coverage in the nation, including those covered by federal law, state law as well as political beliefs, arrest and conviction records, domestic abuse, non-religion, less than honorable discharge from the military, homelessness, social security number disclosure, domestic partnership, citizenship status, physical appearance, gender identity, genetic identity and the fact of being a student.

This past year, as a result of Madison’s ordinance, $120,000 has been awarded to individuals who encountered housing discrimination. The Equal Opportunities Division also conducted 23 educational sessions during that time. Even with these actions, the agency concluded that many citizens were not using the city’s housing discrimination complaint filing process. A study was conducted and it was determined that some groups did not feel comfortable working with a government agency to file a complaint. As a result, the agency has recently established a program called “Certified Community Partners,” wherein one-on-one training is provided regarding the city ordinance and complaint filing process to trusted sources in the community, to ensure that all persons in Madison can live free from housing discrimination.