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Special Report: Is there enough demand for Milwaukee's apartment building boom?

There is no shortage of rental housing options in the city of Milwaukee. There's been a surge with no signs of construction slowing down.

"In 2016, there was a little over 1,000 units added to the market. 2017, we're supposed to add roughly 1,200 units to the market," said Reggie Belanger, Director of Residential at Joseph Property Development.

And that's not including apartments in the suburbs.

"We're talking 3,500 units."

Most of the development is high-end. Reggie Belanger, with Joseph Property Development, says young professionals, as well as recent college graduates, are attracted to downtown.

"I've been in this market since 1991. I've never seen the influx of out-of-town renters that I've seen in the last 2 years." 

Another growing trend is empty-nesters who want to downsize.

"The demographic has changed downtown."

There are 22 residential projects under construction in 2017 with another 18 on the horizon.

"Short term, right now, today, we have oversupply. I look for that to be all absorbed probably by the end of 2018."

Mike Ruzicka, President of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors isn't so sure. "Over time it will work itself out, but for the next 12-18, even 24 months, it spells a crunch for us."

Ruzicka says the apartment boom is impacting the housing market. He's concerned too much attention is being paid to apartments instead of condos and single family houses.

"One of the ramifications of that is people who want to sell their house, can't find another house or condo to move into, so they're forced to move to an apartment. I think that's one of the things keeping the market afloat right now."

Of the 22 properties under construction, nearly all are luxury, with one bedroom prices over 1,200 a month. 

On the positive side, so much competition can be a good thing for renters.

"It holds rent at bay for a little bit."

Don't expect to see construction slowing anytime soon, Belanger says his company is confident in the market.

"We're actively acquiring other sites to build more. So, not today, but we have a pipeline because we believe the growth is going to continue. It's exciting times for Milwaukee."

Not everyone is feeling confident the market will be able to sustain all of this new development. So, what happens if the apartments don't get rented? The answer isn't black and white. Ruzicka thinks they could get turned into condos eventually or expect to see rent prices drop until demand picks back up. 



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