Growth, decline, and (unequal) recovery

John Johnson


Property values in every Milwaukee neighborhood benefited to some extent during the housing boom; likewise, nearly every neighborhood suffered during the Recession. Since then, however, the “recovery” has left behind much of the city.

As in the rest of the country, the early 2000s were good years to be a realtor in Milwaukee. The average value of a residential property (which I’m defining as a condo, duplex or single-family home) grew 149%–from $105,000 in 2000 to $156,000 in 2006.1 That’s about when the good times ended.

The freefall began in earnest in 2008. By 2015, the median value of a home in Milwaukee was just $94,000. Since then appraisals have crept back up to $99,000 (2018).2

Citywide Median Values

More specifically, as the above graph shows, in 2018 median home values were $105,000 for a single-family home; $93,000 for a condo, and $81,000 for a duplex.

As with all things in Milwaukee, neither the boom nor the bust nor the nascent recovery has been shared evenly across the city’s neighborhoods.

The big picture

Here’s the median home value of every neighborhood with residential properties in 2000 and 2018

Citywide Median Values Citywide Median Values

As anyone even passingly familiar with Milwaukee knows, wealth is concentrated by Lake Michigan. This has become even more true during the 21st century so far. In 2000, the “water belt”–located between the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan along with the Menomonee River Valley and the Harbor District–contained 9.2% of the city’s total residential property value (of duplexes, condos, and single-family homes).3 By 2018, this figure had jumped to 16.6%. Condos account for most of this growth. From 2000 to 2018 the total value of all condos in the water belt grew 573.3%. The most dramatic growth has occured in the Menomonee River Valley and along the harbor. Both of these places had almost no inhabitants in 2000, but they have both added well over 100 condos since then.

The growth

Compare change from 2000 to 2006 in dollars and as a percent

$ growth 2000 to 2006 % growth 2000 to 2006

Unsurprisingly, during the boom years home values increased the most (in dollar terms) in the same water belt neighborhoods that I described above.4 Some important additions to these neighborhoods are just across the river in Riverwest, where the median single-family home went from $75,000 in 2000 to $153,000 in 2006, and Brewer’s Hill, where a typical single-family house jumped from $78,000 to $217,000. Nearby Halyard Park also grew considerably.

Percent growth tells a somewhat different story. The places with the most dramatic relative price increases during the housing bubble include a few of the largest real dollar growers (Riverwest, Brewer’s Hill, Halyard Park), but many relatively poor neighborhoods on the near north and west sides. In Triangle North, for example, home values jumped from $22,000 to $70,000. That $48,000 increase is much less than the average increases east of the river, which reached 3 figures in many cases. But proportionally it’s enormous, and it certainly wasn’t accompanied by a comparable 318% increase in earnings among Triangle North residents.

The decline

Compare change from 2006 to 2015 in dollars and as a percent

$ decline 2006 to 2015 % decline 2006 to 2015

Just as every neighborhood added value in the first years of the 21st century, nearly every part of the city lost value from 2006 to 2015.5 The sole exceptions were three neighborhoods with remarkably high rates of new construction–the Menomonee River Valley, Yankee Hill, and Dretzka Park.6

In simple dollar terms, the neighborhoods which dropped the most were mainly located east of the Milwaukee River along Lake Michigan. Of course, these communities were also the wealthiest, so this large dollar decline is less suprising. In percentage terms, the hardest hit neighborhoods lie mostly to the north of North Ave. and the west of Holton St.7 These neighborhoods include the zip code 53206, the most incarcerated zip code in America.

Apart from the upper water belt neighborhoods along the Lake, those sections of the city which best weathered the recession include some neighborhoods in the extreme northwestern part of the city as well as those southern neighborhoods lying to the east of I-94.

Ntile change 2006 to 2015

The map to the right shows how each neighborhood’s percentile ranking changed during the housing crisis. In other words, it shows how each neighborhood faired relative to the others.

For example, even though Bay View’s median home value declined greatly from 2006 to 2015 (by $41,000 or 21%), it still improved relative to most of the city’s other neighborhoods. In 2006 it had a percentile rank of 70, meaning that 70% of neighborhoods had average home values cheaper than Bay View. By 2015, Bay View’s rank had jumped to 83.

Recall those near-west neighborhoods just north of the Menomonee Valley and west of I-43 which recorded high-percentage home value growth in the 2000-2006 boom years. Some of them (like Triangle, Triangle North, and Midtown also maintained home values relatively well during the Recession. Nearby Concordia, on the other hand, grew strongly during the boom but collapsed during the Recession.

Most of the wealthy neighborhoods east of the Milwaukee River changed their relative home value ranking little or not at all during the housing bust, but nearby Riverwest shot up the rankings at a similar rate to Bay View, going from 58 in 2006 to 68 in 2015.

Elsewhere in the city, most of the inner north side experienced relative decline during the Recession. The near south side improved somewhat.8 The far north-western and south-western parts of the city consist of similarly suburban, high-value housing stock, but the north-western neighborhoods9 generally improved in ranking while the south-west10 declined.

The “recovery”

Compare change from 2015 to 2018 in dollars and as a percent

$ change 2015 to 2018 % change 2015 to 2018

While the early 2000s boom and the subsequent bust affected home values in virtually all neighborhoods in similar ways (though to varying degrees), the recovery from the Great Recession has thus far completely eluded large swathes of the city.

Much of the interior north side has continued to lose home value. From 2015 (when citywide median values began to increase) to 2018, north side neighborhoods like Park West, Borchert Field, North Division, Sherman Park, Lincoln Creek, and Lincoln Park all posted double digit declines in median home values. On the south side, Lincoln Village and Forest Home Hills have continued to struggle. A handful of neighborhoods may have turned the corner in the past year, but overall, these swathes of the city seem to remain mired in a cycle of declining home values that the rest of the city began recovering from years ago.11

  1. All monetary values are given in real 2018 dollars. I’ve adjusted for inflation using the CPI-U.

  2. The source for all property valuations is the Milwaukee City Assessor. City assessments more accurately reflect the state of the market in the previous year. So valuations in 2017 are a reflection of the market in 2016.

  3. The “Water Belt” consists of these neighborhoods: Downer Woods, Cambridge Heights, Riverside Park, Murray Hill, Northpoint, Upper East Side, Lower East Side, Yankee Hill, Juneau Town, Historic Third Ward, Harbor View, and the Menomonee River Valley.

  4. As these maps show, by 2006 the condo boom was already well underway along the harbor but it hadn’t reached the Menomonee River Valley yet.

  5. I use 2015 as the end year of housing value declines in Milwaukee because that is the year citywide median values reached their lowest point.

  6. Newly built condos in the case of the Menomonee River Valley and Yankee Hill; new single-family homes in the lightly-populated Dretzka Park.

  7. This block of neighborhoods includes Harambee (-53%), Williamsburg (-63%), Arlington Heights (-58%), North Division (-53%), Park West (-52%), Franklin Heights (-58%), Metcalfe Park (-58%), and Sherman Park (-51%).

  8. Including Silver City, Burnham Park, Clarke Square, and Walker’s Point.

  9. Including North Granville, Dretzka Park, Park Place, Ridgeview, and North Ridge.

  10. Including West View, Euclid Park, Highwood Estates, River Bend, Alcott Park, Morgan Heights, Rolling Green, Wedgewood, Fairview, etc.

  11. % change 2017 to 2018