Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
February 2005
Front Door Opens New Possibilities For State's Homeless Population

When Lee Anne Banks, property manager for the non-profit Madison Development Corporation (MDC) received a flyer from Britt McKenzie of the state's Bureau of Housing (BOH) announcing a new website service called "WIFrontDoor" (wifrontdoorhousing.org) she says, "I got excited about it. It's a much needed web page."

Lee Anne Banks, property manager for the Madison Development Corporation, was one of the first persons in the state to sign up for WIFrontDoor training.
Lee Anne Banks, property manager for the Madison Development Corporation, was one of the first persons in the state to sign up for WIFrontDoor training.

She called McKenzie to learn about the service, which provides quality affordable housing property listings and services for the state's lower income population, and signed up for the first training session.

"We (MDC) advertise (their 200 some rental units) in local newspapers and housing magazines, and it generally runs between $6,000 and $7,000 in (annual) costs," explains Banks. By having a free, safe, centralized location for listing available units, Banks' organization will benefit not only in reduced ad cost savings but also in having "a lot more resources for our clients in need. It (WIFront Door) provides the tools to help people instantly."

Getting the word out on WIFrontDoor is the job of BOH Community Services Specialist Britt McKenzie. McKenzie is working to enlist as many private and public landlords who provide housing for low to-moderate income households in the state to add their housing units to the WIFrontDoor database. (So far, he says, WIFrontDoor has over 74,400 listings on the Housing site.)

Unlike a standard classified ad, WIFrontDoor allows landlords to enter a myriad of information about the property, including full descriptions, photos, and maps. Then, individuals, social service agencies, housing authorities, governmental agencies, etc. can view and download information 24 hours a day, seven days a week - wherever there is access to the Internet.

"I like that I can just click and print out a page for a client (seeking housing or services)," says Banks.

The housing component, coupled with Homelessness service information in another, provides the most comprehensive collection of resources to aid the homeless in the nation.

Banks notes that after the 1-1/2 hour training session at Commerce she had a clear understanding of the site, and was anxious to get back to the office and enter information into the system. "It's one way of working better and more efficiently, " she says. "I think this is a good link between agencies and landlords, and I also think it will help spur cooperation in assisting in homelessness - or preventing it."

Banks says that the key for agencies is to find homes, and for landlords to find renters and resources to help them, so the creation of WIFrontDoor is ideal blend. "It's basic, simple, and I love it!" From initial feedback, she's not the only one who feels that way.

WIFrontDoor has been on-line for the public for only two weeks, yet in that time the site has had as many hits per day as the City of Portland, Oregon site that served as a model for WIFrontDoor, which has been on-line for three years. Community Services Specialist Senior Phil Wells, who oversees the WIFrontDoor program, says that he's encouraged by the numbers (although he notes there are certainly differences in the sizes of the target market) and clearly the service is filling a void.

Among Housing's goal, says Wells, is that "This (WIFrontDoor) becomes the first place that renters look to find affordable housing in Wisconsin. We hope to serve as a national model for other states who are undertaking such an effort," concludes Wells, who, along with his staff knows how much effort it takes to launch such an undertaking.

Housing has partnered with other agencies, including Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) and Housing and Urban Devleopment (HUD) to get the site up and running. Notes McKenzie, "We are grateful to WHEDA and HUD for their financial support to make this program possible.

"We're also grateful to Western Wisconsin Technical College and Fox Valley Technical College for the free use of their computer labs for holding training sessions."

Housing personnel will be holding a series of WIFrontDoor training sessions in February at the following locations: (The training includes basic information and proficiency training for both websites.) February 2 - Milwaukee HUD office (10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.) February 2 - City of Milwaukee Housing Authority (3:00 p.m.) February 10 - Job Service Training Center, Menasha (9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.) February 11 - Western Wisconsin Technical College - La Crosse (9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.) February 18 - Fox Valley Technical College - Appleton (9:30 a.m and 1:30 p.m.)

For more information on the training sessions, or WIFrontDoor, contact Britt McKenzie at (608) 266-5363 or bmckenzie@commerce.state.wi.us.

--Barbro McGinn

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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