The Carmen Porco Story
From Scum-lord to Champion of the Poor
Madison, WI- A new book: The-Carmen-Porco-Story-Journey-
Toward-Justice has just been released. This insightful biography,
provides a “compelling and beautifully written account of Rev.
Carmen Porco’s life journey from the barroom where he grew up,
to his highly successful low-income housing ministry.”
When he arrived in Madison, former Mayor Paul Soglin called
Carmen the biggest “scum-lord” in the city because the low income
properties he came to manage-Packer and Northport Apartments,
were disasters. He arrived in the midst of a rent strike with a class
action suit brewing. Both complexes were close to 50 percent
vacant, and both mortgages were in default. The properties also
had a reputation for crime and prostitution. But just like he had
done in New York, Maryland, and California, Carmen would prove
the mayor and other naysayers wrong.
In fact, Reverend Carmen Porco has transformed how low income
public housing should be managed in this country. He believes that
public housing complexes must do more for people in need than
just offer shelter. “These properties that are benefiting from government subsidies should provide a comprehensive array of social and educational services
onsite so that poor people have the resources necessary to improve their lives,” says Carmen. And that is exactly what he has done in Milwaukee and
Madison. His housing ministry is so successful that nearly 1 in 4 of his low income households have someone in college.
• Over 50 residents have obtained livable wage jobs right in their housing complexes
• The high school graduation rate in their communities approaches 100 percent
• 72% of high school graduates go on to higher education
• Their neighborhoods boast some of the lowest crime rates in their cities
Porco has proven that the condition of the poor can be radically improved through local empowerment.
You would think such success would be welcomed and duplicated by HUD, but unfortunately this model of hope and opportunity has largely been ignored by
the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Although Rev. Porco graduated from one of the country’s finest seminary schools, he is not a traditional pastor by any means. In fact he thinks the
traditional church has abandoned its commitment to empowering the poor. Porco believes that the “true church” is not in a building but wherever people
gather to do good, whether that is in the streets or homes, where people live daily, or in his case, the low-income housing complexes he manages.
His Italian parents started out as bootleggers before opening a barroom where
Porco spent his youth interacting with all types of people. And many of those
people were African Americans, resulting in him establishing authentic life-long
relationships with many Black people. When Carmen’s best friend Bobo Young
was killed in a gang fight that Carmen led, his life was forever changed. He
turned to the church and began preaching at age 15. Although he started off as a
Fundamentalist, by the time he graduated from seminary school he was
challenging the traditional church and his religious philosophy was more in line
with Father James Groppi whom he marched with in Milwaukee during the Open
housing marches of the 1960s. When he graduated from seminary school he
began working for the American Baptists in their housing division where
overtime he realized that a housing ministry was his calling, instead of pastoring
in a traditional church.
The-Carmen-Porco-Story-Journey-Toward-Justice is about the human spirit
fighting against the odds. The fact that 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty should
concern all of us. We are told daily by our media that we live in the richest
country on the planet. Yet, poverty is on the rise and there are few signs that
fighting poverty is of national import. That is why local initiatives like Porco’s
housing ministry are so important. It may take local innovation to affect national
There is something special about Rev. Porco’s housing ministry and the lives it
is changing in Madison, Milwaukee and beyond. Why should we care? Perhaps
Rev. Porco says it best: "The poor are increasingly becoming us and not them!”
For most of his adult life, Rev. Porco has fought for racial justice and equal
opportunities for the poor. This inspiring biography of Madison’s most non-
traditional pastor is testament to the power of hope over despair.
About the Author
Dr. Charles Taylor is the author of six non-fiction books, a novel: Lakeside
University Cover-up, a Children’s Musical Play, and writer/producer of the award
winning documentary Decade of Discontent. A retired professor, Chuck also
produced the Journey of Hope film series on Rev. Porco’s housing ministry.