Revitalize Milwaukee’s Block Build initiative to return to Clarke Square

Volunteers to repair as many as 30 homes

Direct Supply employees participating in Block Build MKE.

Revitalize Milwaukee’s Block Build MKE initiative will return to Clarke Square this summer to repair and beautify more homes in the neighborhood on Milwaukee’s near south side.

Direct Supply employees participating in Block Build MKE.

Every year, the organization hosts a two-day event in which hundreds of volunteers work on as many as 30 homes in a concentrated area of a Milwaukee neighborhood.

For the past two years, efforts have focused on Clarke Square, located immediately south of the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory. Work will continue in the neighborhood – specifically the area encompassing 24th, 25th, 26th Streets and Pierce Street – during this year’s Block Build event on Aug. 16 and 17.

Typical repairs include new kitchen cabinets and countertops, large scale ramps, new porches, new gutters and bathroom renovations to make them accessible. Volunteers also help with clean up and landscaping projects.

This year’s investment in the neighborhood is expected to be between $100,000 and $150,000. It costs about $5,000 per home to complete the repairs.

Organizers are aiming to repair 30 homes this year.

“I think that is entirely possible,” said Debbie Knepke, director of transformation for Revitalize Milwaukee. “Thirty would be a record-breaker for us.”

Volunteers typically include representatives from sponsoring businesses and residents of the neighborhood. About 300 volunteers participated in last year’s event.

The Block Build is hosted in partnership with the Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative. Ian Bautista, executive director of CSNI, said Block Build helps further the neighborhood’s goal of building prosperity through improved housing quality.

“On the neighborhood level, it gives a sense of energy and pride,” Bautista said. “There’s the obvious visual impact because you see homes being worked on and the improvements that add to the quality of homes and the overall block. And it also spurs action for the neighbors who may not have been a direct participant in Block Build.”

On an individual level, Bautista said, the repairs can have a significant impact on homeowners’ quality of life.

“During the first year (of Block Build), we had one neighbor who didn’t have a wheelchair ramp,” Bautista said. “His wife had recently moved to a nursing home. Not only could he not get out, he couldn’t visit her. He was an active neighbor and would attend meetings regularly and had taken leadership roles in the community … so having that ramp made a huge difference in his life.”

Revitalize Milwaukee’s year-round programs focus on providing critical home repairs and services to veterans, seniors and people with disabilities.

“We’re filling in a gap in the community by making sure people can stay in their homes,” Knepke said. “There is a lot of focus on new homes and on renters, but our goal is to keep people where they are. Many people have been in their homes for decades. This is their neighborhood.”

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.