Joy Global, Catholic Financial Life volunteers building three homes in Washington Park

Volunteers help build three homes in Washington Park on Monday, Sept. 19.

More than 50 volunteers from Joy Global and Catholic Financial Life wove between the foundations of what will soon become three single-family homes Monday morning on the 2200 block of North 28th Street in Milwaukee’s Washington Park neighborhood.

Wearing hard hats and tool belts, the volunteers  hammered-in nails and lifted two-by-fours into place as part of the last Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity “Blitz Build” of 2016 to frame the three homes within a week.

“Typically a new construction home takes about eight to nine months to complete, but by the end of the week, these things will look much different than they do right now,” said Milwaukee Habitat spokesman Jake Brandt. “The second floor will be up, the roof will be on, the siding will be in the windows will be in. These blitz weeks are really kind of phenomenal to see. I’ve been with habitat seven years, and still every time it amazes me that you come here Monday and just see platforms and then by Friday, you’ve got a block of houses.”

Milwaukee Habitat held similar building events in May, June and July.

The three homes are being built side-by-side on the east side of North 38th Street on a block that already has eight completed Milwaukee habitat homes. Two of the homes are being built by Joy Global volunteers and the third is being built by Catholic Financial Life volunteers.

Since 2011, Joy Global employees and suppliers have contributed more than $1.15 million to Milwaukee Habitat and logged more than 6,000 volunteer hours with the home-building organization. The two homes being framed by Joy Global volunteers this week will be the 16th and 17th homes the company has helped build over the past five years.

Brandt said Milwaukee Habitat has been focusing on constructing and rehabbing homes in Washington Park exclusively since 2013. He said demographic research suggested the neighborhood was in need of home upgrades and organization leaders saw an opportunity to partner with community organizations in the area.

“We also saw a lot of opportunity to build here,” Brandt said. “There were a number of empty lots. There were a lot of abandoned or foreclosed homes. We can make an impact in this area. We can bring new construction homes to families in this area. We can rehab the properties that are being detriments to a block decreasing property values and fostering negative activity. Instead, we can either take those down or rebuild those houses and turn it into a block like we are here of single family homes.”

By the end of the 2016 season, Milwaukee Habitat will have built 10 new homes and rehabbed 12 existing homes in Washington Park, Brandt said.

“Once these are completed, we’ll have 11 habitat homeowners just on this block alone,” Brandt said as volunteers hammered away on the foundations behind him. “The Block next door had a 30 percent home ownership rate three years ago. It’s going to be at 90 percent home ownership in the next year. In this five block radius, we’ve seen in the last five years a 47 percent decrease in crime. That’s really what we’re trying to do here is, obviously, make housing affordable and accessible to people who may not be able to qualify for normal home ownership, but also to rebuild these communities and make it a safe, stable neighborhood.”

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Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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