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Teig Whaley-Smith fiercely champions equitable homeownership

October 14, 2022
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A decade after forming a collective impact alliance and more than a year after choosing affordable housing as a focus, a public-private partnership including Milwaukee foundations and local government agencies was ready to hire its first full-time executive leader.

They conducted a systematic search and in the end, one person was the clear choice to lead Milwaukee’s Community Development Alliance: Teig Whaley-Smith.

“He just has a fiery commitment to Milwaukee, first and foremost,” CDA chair and Zilber Family Foundation executive director Gina Stilp said. “He is so driven by creating opportunity and pathways for Black and Hispanic families in Milwaukee to build wealth.”

Whaley-Smith had also already spent more than a year consulting for the CDA, leading the group’s creation of a collective plan for affordable housing in Milwaukee, which aims to support housing opportunities for 18,000 Milwaukee households and to preserve 35,500 currently occupied homes, with an emphasis on affordability for Black and Latino homeowners and families making $7.25 to $15 per hour.

“That’s really what I built my career on, is creating and leading collaborative teams for collective impact,” Whaley-Smith said.

The CDA officially named Whaley-Smith as its chief alliance executive in February. Since then, he’s been executing the plan with a focus on increasing the number of families who receive down payment assistance by 10% each year, acquiring at least 100 homes and duplexes annually that would otherwise likely become investor-owned, and building 100 entry-level houses a year on vacant city lots.

“I want to make Milwaukee the best place on planet earth, particularly for those families that have been left out of the larger social, political and economic systems,” Whaley-Smith said. “This is really a perfect fit.”

Issues of equity are personal for Whaley-Smith, who has three sisters who are Black and said he’s observed social systems working in his favor but not benefiting his sisters and their families.

“Growing up in a neighborhood like Sherman Park, growing up in an integrated family, I fight these issues out of love,” Whaley-Smith said. “What gets me going all the time … is just to know the circumstances of my nieces and nephews and also know that there is a fix … We just have to have the social desire to change the system.”

Whaley-Smith has long been a staunch community leader. He was one of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 honorees in 2013, the same year he became Milwaukee County’s economic development director.

He spent the next seven years at the county, working on projects including redeveloping the former Park East freeway and developing Fiserv Forum, Deer District and the Couture tower. The biggest success from that chapter of his career was helping Milwaukee County become the first U.S. municipality to declare racism a public health crisis and develop a plan to combat it, he said.

“That really gave me the toolset and the training … to transfer that skillset to start doing collective action work on housing,” Whaley-Smith said.

The CDA — which was formed in 2011 by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Zilber Family Foundation, Northwestern Mutual Foundation and LISC Milwaukee — began focusing on housing in 2020, Whaley-Smith said.

“It’s really critical to focus on housing as the first social determinant of health,” he said. “Recent research suggests that … you need to be in stable housing to take advantage of employment opportunities.”

Other CDA members now include the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, Bader Philanthropies Inc., Children’s Wisconsin and the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

The CDA has raised $21 million to support its work, from funding sources that weren’t already being used for other local housing efforts, Whaley-Smith said.

The organization teamed up with the local nonprofit Acts Housing to launch the property acquisition fund, which has already bought its first four houses, Whaley-Smith said. The CDA will soon select a developer to build its first 120 houses on vacant lots in Milwaukee’s King Park neighborhood.

“The partners that have brought together CDA … realized that they can’t continue to work in silos,” Whaley-Smith said. “Once people realized that we could have these collective wins by working together, it’s just grown exponentially over the last year.”

Teig Whaley-Smith

  • Title: Chief alliance executive
  • Organization: Milwaukee’s Community Development Alliance
  • Education: Law degree, University of Michigan;bachelor’s, University of Wisconsin-Madison; K-12 at Milwaukee Public Schools
  • Family: Married to his high school sweetheart with four kids ranging from age 7 to a freshman in college.
  • Hometown and current residence: Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood
  • Influential books: “The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee; “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi; everything by Malcolm Gladwell
  • A Milwaukee favorite: Amaranth Bakery & Cafe at North 34th Street and West Lisbon Avenue.