Housing initiatives will boost central city

Commentary

Two under-the-radar announcements recently brought much-needed good news to some of Milwaukee’s impoverished neighborhoods.

Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity announced plans to expand its neighborhood revitalization efforts in the Midtown neighborhood, a $9 million commitment over the next three years.

Since 2013, Habitat had focused its work primarily on the Washington Park neighborhood. Now, it is moving east into Midtown, targeting its efforts on the area between West North and West Lisbon avenues, and North 25th and North 30th streets.

“It’s an area that has a lot of vacant lots owned by the city, it has a number of blighted properties and foreclosed properties, but it also has a core group of residents who are desirous of seeing the same kind of revitalization that’s happened (in Washington Park),” said Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat.

After the organization completes its work in Midtown, Habitat will shift its focus to the Harambee neighborhood with what Sonderman expects to be a $16 million to $20 million investment.

I’ve done some work with Habitat on a few new home projects through my church. It’s a great organization that offers a hand up, not a handout. The modest homes are sold for no profit and financed with an affordable mortgage to people who meet income requirements and pass a background check. The homeowners also have to put in hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” working on Habitat homes. Habitat carefully selects its homeowners, choosing people who need some help but will be responsible residents that will help improve the neighborhood.

Almost anyone can support Habitat, either with a donation or volunteer labor. You don’t need to have any construction skills, just the ability to follow instructions and work hard. My wife can attest that my handyman skills are minimal at best, but I had no problem working on Habitat homes.

More good news for Harambee: PyraMax Bank announced recently that it has committed $1 million to mortgages in that neighborhood.

Efforts to support homeownership in low-income neighborhoods can make a difference. Homeowners have a financial stake in their property, and therefore the neighborhood, which motivates them to work with their neighbors to make it a better place. Violent crime has gone down 48 percent on the Washington Park blocks where Habitat has completed home projects, Sonderman said.

Thrivent Financial, Wells Fargo and Komatsu Mining Corp. have been the main corporate partners in Habitat’s Washington Park efforts.

PyraMax is partnering with ACTS Housing, MGIC, Take Root Milwaukee and Riverworks for its Harambee program.

Hopefully, more businesses and nonprofit organizations decide to work together on similar efforts in Milwaukee.

“We frankly need more lenders to step up and do what PyraMax has done,” Mayor Tom Barrett said.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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