Report cites housing inequities in Beloit, Janesville, Rock County

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ROCK COUNTY - Minorities across Beloit, Janesville and greater Rock County are less likely to have access to fair and affordable housing, according to a federally mandated draft report by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council Inc.

The report is required for communities that receive federal housing funds including community development block grants and HOME grant funds.

According to the report, low housing availability rates across Rock County amplify other housing problems, while disparities based on race, ethnicity and disability also are factors.

Beloit's demographics are significantly different than corresponding figures in Janesville. Beloit's median income is $38,930 compared to $52,617 in Janesville and $53,410 across the county. Almost 39% of Beloit's population (36,966) is nonwhite, compared to just 11% in Janesville and 9.3% in the county.

Median household income figures are lower for black and Latino families compared to overall figures across Rock County. The median household incomes for black and Latino families are $25,810 and $33,158, respectively.

The report cites the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a group that studies housing affordability, and found that a household must have an income of $31,760 in order to afford a two bedroom apartment at the local fair market rent of $794 without experiencing a cost burden, well above the median household income for black families in Rock County. According to the report, a single person earning the minimum wage can only afford a monthly rent of $377, significantly less than the $596 in the fair market rent assessment by the coalition for the Janesville-Beloit area.

Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther cited the city's recent partnership with Milwaukee-based ACTS Housing as ways the city was looking to address home ownership challenges for low income families of all backgrounds.

"The partnership will help eliminate barriers to homeownership while also providing the necessary education and support to ensure these individuals and families are successful in their home ownership for years to come," Luther said.

Black and Latino families are also not accessing mortgage loans in proportion with white families. According to the draft study, with nearly 20% of Beloit's population being Latino, but less than 8% of mortgage loan originations come from Latino families and less than 5% come from black households. In Janesville, the disparity is stark for Latino borrowers, with less than 2% of the Latino population accounting for home loans.

Across the county, according to the report, are many challenges for those with disabilities. The report cites a "vast majority" of Rock County properties having been built before 1990, meaning structures with four or more units "are not likely to be accessible to persons with mobility impairments," the report said.

Poverty rates are also split along racial lines, with the report highlighting the county's overall 14% poverty rate, while 12% of white county residents fall below the poverty line. Nearly 40% of black families and almost 33% of Latino families are poor, both of which are higher than the national average, according to the report.

In Beloit, 25% of the population lives below the poverty line, but the figure is nearly double for Latino households at 42% and 37% for black families, data showed.

Subsidies for affordable housing are limited and demand for housing "nearly always exceeds supply," the report said. As of April 2019, there were 239 families on Beloit's Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program and 117 on Janesville's HCV list. In Beloit, there are 131 public housing units operated by the Beloit Housing Authority. There are currently 540 HCV vouchers administered by the city, of which less than 60 are still available, the report said.

Housing problems, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, persist in over a third of Rock County households. Definitions of housing problems recognized by HUD include incomplete kitchen units, incomplete plumbing infrastructure, crowding and cost burdens. In Beloit, nearly 36% of white households, 44% of Latino households and 62% of black households experience housing problems. In Janesville, 31% of white households, 57% of Latino households, and 37% percent of black households experience housing problems, according to the report.

Evictions are also higher in Beloit, Janesville and the county than the state and national average, according to 2016 data by the Eviction Lab. In 2016, there were 645 evictions in Rock County including 249 in Beloit and 301 in Janesville, the report said.

In Beloit, just over 57% of the homes are owner-occupied, while around 42 percent rent.

Recommendations in the study say Beloit, Janesville and the county should take steps to fight housing inequality. In Beloit, some of those recommendations include support affordable housing development through reduced land costs; contract with a qualified fair housing organization for training and evaluate house code enforcement ordinances; create a review board for addressing housing complaints; improve the Beloit Transit System (BTS); develop an eviction reduction strategy; address predatory land contracts; increase consumer education and connect with Beloit's minority community through support programming. The study will be discussed by the Beloit Equal Opportunities Commission at its 5:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at the City of Beloit Engineering facility, 2400 Springbrook Court. The report will be available for public review until Sept. 23 followed by review by the Beloit Community Development Authority. The Beloit City Council could take up the report for public hearing and final approval on Oct. 7, according to EOC meeting documents.

EOC Chair Steve Howland could not immediately be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday.

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