Milwaukee Habitat announces new program

Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity has laid the foundation for a new $20 million Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) that will provide both construction resources and financial support to Washington Park homeowners in need of home repairs.


The NRI, modeled off a program designed by Habitat for Humanity International, will allow homeowners occupying their homes to apply for zero interest, partially forgivable loans of up to $15,000 to fund essential home repairs addressing doors, windows, roofs, weatherization, painting, flooring and dry walling.

The program will place a particular focus on home repairs needed to correct code violations and enhance energy efficiency. It will also target households with elderly or disabled occupants, single parents, U.S. military veterans, and large families of five or more members.

“Through our traditional home building model and our new Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, Milwaukee Habitat continues its ongoing work to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods through new and existing homeownership,” said Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat.

Parallel to all Habitat for Humanity home-building efforts, the NRI will require participants to invest sweat equity into their home or another Habitat home alongside Habitat volunteers and subcontractors.

Beyond providing assistance to individual homes, the NRI will include a broader neighborhood focus to address community issues such as public safety, youth development and homeownership rates. This holistic component within the program will establish partnerships between Milwaukee Habitat and other area nonprofits and agencies to make strides toward solutions for these critical neighborhood issues.

Solutions may include cleaning up alleys, cutting back bushes and installing solar neighborhood streetlights, said Melissa Herguth, development director of Milwaukee Habitat.   

“It’s more to go outside of building and construction and to look at what the neighborhood and residents and homeowners need to have it be a thriving neighborhood,” Herguth said.

In identifying the right neighborhood to launch the NRI, Milwaukee Habitat toured eight city neighborhoods before selecting Washington Park.

“It’s a neighborhood of great need, but (it) has great assets, too,” Herguth said.

While Washington Park faces high crime rates and prostitution and is littered with abandoned and foreclosed properties, it contains a base of Habitat homeowners, a strong neighborhood association, higher owner occupancy rates than other neighborhoods, and a number of nonprofit initiatives geared toward neighborhood development.

“We’re joining an effort that is already in existence that we are complementing,” Herguth said.

As the program is rolled out, Milwaukee Habitat aims to either expand it from the epicenter of Washington Park or duplicate it in separate neighborhoods.

The nonprofit hopes that by initially concentrating efforts on one area, it can make a substantial impact on the local economy, homeowner occupancy and crime reduction, Herguth said.

The NRI will likely roll out over the next three to five years with financial support from local agencies and corporations such as Joy Global, The Harley-Davidson Foundation, Wells Fargo, and the Brewers Community Foundation.

Milwaukee Habitat is seeking additional funding for the program as well as applicants in need of repairs. For more information, interested homeowners can call the organization’s homeowner hotline at 414-255-3565.

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