Milwaukee Habitat kicks off initiative to build 80 new homes in Harambee neighborhood

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Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity leaders and supporters on Wednesday raised the first wall of a new house in Harambee, kicking off the organization’s effort to build 80 new affordable homes in the city’s north side neighborhood.

The new home construction project amounts to a roughly $12 million investment, or about $150,000 per house. Habitat also plans to complete critical repairs on 160 homes on Milwaukee’s north west side, with each project costing about $10,000 to $15,000.

The start of the project, which Habitat announced in December 2019, was delayed by a year due to COVID-related setbacks. At the time of the announcement, Bader Philanthropies, which has its headquarters on King Drive in Harambee, pledged $1 million to support the project, which is planned to take place over the next four years.

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The foundation’s chief executive officer, Dan Bader, along with Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, city development commissioner Lafayette Crump and Milwaukee Habitat executive director Brian Sonderman ceremonially lifted the first wall of a new home on the 3400 block of North Third Street to celebrate the project’s start.

The multi-year initiative is focused on addressing the high cost of renting in Harambee relative to residents’ income. Currently, about one in three Milwaukee renters spends half or more of their income on housing. In Harambee, the median monthly rent is $800. For a new Habitat home, a typical mortgage payment is between $500 and $800.

“We know that in the United States today, homeownership is a gamechanger when it comes to wealth creation,” Sonderman said, noting that systemic inequalities created through practices like redlining have prevented many families in the city from attaining home ownership and building wealth.

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In Harambee, only 22% of residents own the home they live in.

Habitat’s homeownership program is designed for low-to-moderate income first-time home buyers. Families that qualify for Habitat homes are earning 30% to 80% of Milwaukee’s median income and typically do not qualify for traditional lending products or cannot afford to pay market-rate to make needed repairs so they can stay in their home.

The homes being built in Harambee are two-stories tall with 3 or 4 bedrooms.

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Crump said there is clearly a desire among residents for homeownership opportunities, citing a Milwaukee Habitat orientation session earlier this year that received 1,500 registrations within a 36-hour period.

“The demand is there and we all have to be a part of meeting that demand,” Crump said.

As the Harambee project gets underway, Habitat is nearing completion on an initiative to build, rehab and repair more than 100 homes in the city’s Midtown neighborhood. The organization, which launched the $10.3 million Midtown effort in 2018, plans to frame the final home there in September.

Since its founding in 1984, Milwaukee Habitat has helped more than 1,300 families through new construction, rehabs and repairs in Milwaukee’s Amani, Harambee, Metcalfe Park, Midtown, Park West, Walnut Hill and Washington Park neighborhoods.

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