Milwaukee Biz Blog: Unlocking the power of home

ACTS Housing, Habitat for Humanity and MGIC are helping lower-income families obtain home ownership

Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Brian Sonderman announces the organization's plans to expand its neighborhood revitalization efforts to communities east of Washington Park.

Last updated on June 25th, 2019 at 01:48 pm

Summer time means backyard barbecues and the chance to talk with neighbors after a winter of indoor hibernation. To sit out on the front porch and enjoy the benefits of home ownership.

Trudy certainly is.

She spent the last two years working closely with ACTS Housing’s homebuying counselors and the last several months making her new home a safe and enjoyable gathering place for her children and grandchildren this summer.

She doesn’t fit the traditional homebuyer profile, but maybe that just proves we need to expand and evolve the way we think about homeownership. In fact, Trudy is just one of more than 100 ACTS Housing homebuyers who are spending their first summer in their new homes.

Conversations about the housing market in Milwaukee overwhelmingly focus on two narratives: the apartment boom downtown and the tight inventory and corresponding sellers’ market for single family homes. Missed in these popular narratives are the challenges and opportunities that exist for many Milwaukee families.

Matthew Desmond, in his Pulitzer Prize winning, “Evicted,” did a remarkable job capturing the challenges, sharing stories of families forced to bounce from apartment to apartment in Milwaukee under the threat of eviction. Through his most recent work, the Eviction Lab, Desmond estimates that in 2016 every minute there were four evictions filed in the U.S.

While affordable rental properties and policy changes are crucial, what often gets lost is the incredible opportunity that exists, right now, to build stronger neighborhoods while reducing the foreclosure and eviction crisis in the process.

We’re talking about homeownership. Right here in Milwaukee’s central city. For families who have traditionally been locked out of the homebuyer marketplace – but don’t have to be.

Brian Sonderman

ACTS Housing, Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, and MGIC all have different models but with the same larger objective of helping families become homeowners, often for the very first time. For more than 20 years, in some of Milwaukee’s most challenged neighborhoods, ACTS has helped families become successful homeowners. The families supply the desire, dedication and sweat equity, while ACTS is there with homebuyer counseling, real estate services, rehab counseling and access to financing to turn these dreams into reality. The result is that nearly 2,500 families have become successful homeowners and more than 800 foreclosed properties have been reclaimed and transformed into owner occupied homes. Over a 20 year period, more than 94 percent of ACTS’ homeowners have successfully sustained home ownership.

Over the past 34 years, Milwaukee Habitat has served more than 1,000 local families in need of safe, affordable housing. Providing a hand up, rather than a hand out, Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. With nearly 60 percent of Milwaukee renters living in unaffordable housing, the need in our community is critical. Habitat’s no-down payment, affordable mortgage makes it possible for homeowners to build strength, stability and self-reliance for themselves and their families. Through neighborhood revitalization strategies, Habitat focuses its work in concentrated areas in order to not only build homes, but revitalize entire communities.

Patrick Sinks

For more than 60 years MGIC has made it possible for families, across the country, to purchase homes with low down payments, thus allowing them to achieve home ownership several years sooner than otherwise as they saved for a 20 percent down payment. In 2017 alone MGIC helped more than 180,000 families obtain affordable and sustainable home financing solutions. While many households that MGIC assists are first time home buyers, or buyers with low or moderate incomes, there are many other households that don’t qualify for traditional housing financing options but can be successful homeowners. That is one of the reasons why MGIC provides both fiscal and physical resources to both ACTS Housing and Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity to help them achieve their missions.

Our collective efforts, along with many others fills a vital need. Owning a home can act as an equalizer and asset builder, one that spans class, race and creed. Stable housing, in fact, leads to stronger families, and stronger communities. It benefits all of us.

Research into how stable housing can benefit children and families supports this.

First, the health of families improves with housing and has a marked effect on children in the home. According to Dr. Megan Sandel, associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, stable housing can act, “as a vaccine for children.”

Second, affordability means increased financial stability and freedom. In 2017, the average ACTS homeowner only spent 16.6 percent of their monthly earnings on housing. This means that families can save and invest the money in other critical ways that will benefit them, such as food, education and improved health care.

It has been well documented that the housing market isn’t working for families with low-to-moderate incomes living in Milwaukee’s central city. However, ACTS Housing and Habitat for Humanity and their partners are working to create affordable homeownership opportunities for these very same families, not someday, but today.

We need to start talking more about how to better leverage existing home purchase options as well as what new programs or policies could support more families to transition from renter to owner, building equity in their homes – and for their futures.

We know these families are out there.

Just ask Trudy.

Michael Gosman is the executive director of ACTS Housing, Brian Sonderman is the executive director of Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity and Patrick Sinks is the chief executive officer of MGIC Investment Corp.

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