Public Policy Forum Blog

Evaluating the Neighborhood Stabilization Program in Milwaukee

The Public Policy Forum’s recently released 2011 City of Milwaukee budget brief notes that Milwaukee’s budget includes significant allocations to curb the effects of foreclosures in city neighborhoods. Many of the city’s new and enhanced initiatives are funded with grant dollars from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), which has helped foreclosure strategies throughout the state. The initial NSP allocation in Wisconsin totaled $38.8 million, of which Milwaukee received $9.2 million. In early 2010, the second round of NSP awarded Milwaukee $25 million to return approximately 1,000 foreclosed homes back to productive use.
These allocations are being used, primarily, to prevent homes from sitting vacant and deteriorating neighborhoods. In theory, higher vacancy rates lead to lower home values. Academic literature also identifies this strong inverse relationship between vacancy rates and home prices.

But how can we be sure that NSP allocations are effective? Should the proper test for evaluating NSP’s effectiveness be broad-based, observable increases in home values? On the one hand, yes. If vacancy rates decrease as NSP ultimately returns properties to productive uses, then home values increase. But on the other hand, perhaps not. Theoretically, the bottoming out of the housing market induces some investors, speculators, or unaffected consumers to purchase up properties at a low price. Eventually, demand for properties increases and causes an increase in prices. In other words, at some point property values are bound to increase even without policy action. The issue becomes the speed with which home values increase.

What policy analysts must determine, therefore, is whether the NSP, and similar programs, raise property values more quickly than they otherwise would have rebounded. To do so, analysts will have to account for the other contributing factors that help determine property values, such as unemployment rates, mortgage interest rates, and the availability of credit, among others.