Editor’s note: This story is related to an article updating a Sherman Park housing program launched in January 2017.
The Milwaukee Employment/Renovation Initiative (MERI) drew hundreds of residents to City Hall in January hoping to buy city-owned homes for $1 and take advantage of city funds to help with repairs. When they discovered that only developers buying at least five homes could participate in the program, many were incensed.
“They’ll sell it to a developer first for a dollar before they’re going to give it to me,” said David Staples, whose family has lived on 41st Street for almost 50 years, after the program’s first renovation was completed across the street.
He added, “Why not find somebody in the neighborhood so we can build the neighborhood up?”
However, the city has programs to help prospective homebuyers purchase and rehabilitate city-owned foreclosed properties, according to Department of City Development spokesperson Jeff Fleming.
“In many circumstances, there are better deals available to individuals than the deal that was offered to developers,” said Fleming, specifically noting the city’s Homebuyer Assistance Program, which provides up to $20,000 in forgiveable loans. Developers taking part in MERI can receive a maximum of $10,000 per renovation.
“All of these programs are very hard to access, but they’re there and they can be used,” said Carl Quindel, president of Strong Blocks, a developer participating in MERI.
Fleming touted DCD’s “considerable outreach,” specifically mentioning its booth at Bronzeville Week and a regular homeownership fair held in conjunction with Take Root Milwaukee. “We are in front of thousands of people talking about the opportunities that exist. That said, we are always looking for ways to improve.”
“A lot of people can’t go to these meetings and such,” said Sherman Park Community Association Board President Barry Givens. “We’ve got to do a better job of communicating these programs, the qualifications and how to apply.”
Quindel agreed. “I think people are busy,” he said. “I think they’ve got a lot of stuff going on in their life that’s going to prevent them from really digging into the weeds of … buying a house.” He added that the programs need to designate individuals to guide people through the process.
Within the last couple of months, DCD created a new website to help inform people about the many city programs that exist for new and existing homeowners, investors and nonprofits.
Since 2014, DCD has acquired more than 2,600 tax-foreclosed properties and has sold about 2,300 of those. According to Amy Turim, real estate development services manager for DCD, a majority of the properties have been sold directly to owner-occupants.
“Have we reached everybody we’ve needed to reach? No,” Fleming said. “But … clearly we are reaching an audience.”
According to Staples, most people just need a little bit of help. “That’s it,” he said. “That’s all we ask. That’s all we need.”
The next Take Root Milwaukee homeownership fair will be held Saturday, Aug. 26, from 8 a.m. until noon at the Clinton Rose Senior Center, 3045 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.