Foreclosures in Milwaukee, block by block

Layton Boulevard West

By Matt Barbato and Aaron Maybin

Layton Boulevard West takes aggressive stance against foreclosures

Like many city neighborhoods, Layton Boulevard West has struggled with foreclosed properties. However, overall “the neighborhood has proven itself resilient in the face of these vacant properties,” according to Will Sebern, director of fund development and communications for Layton Boulevard West Neighbors.

Sam Leichtling, program director for the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation (NIDC), agreed that Layton Boulevard West is in a better situation than some other city neighborhoods.

“The foreclosure process has not impacted every neighborhood equally,” Leichtling said. “Layton Boulevard West may have a high number of foreclosed homes at any given time, but because there is a really strong real estate market there, a lot of those homes get purchased and don’t sit for as long.”

More than $2 million has been invested in rehabbing 24 foreclosed homes in Layton Boulevard West, according to Leichtling. He explained that NIDC has a strong working relationship with the neighborhood.

“We’ve had a long history of partnering with [LBWN] to make funds available to existing home owners to rehabilitate their homes. The foreclosure crisis came along and started to put some of those investments at risk. We made a conscious decision to work with LBWN to protect those investments,” Leichtling said.

Charlotte John-Gomez, executive director of Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, said there are 48 foreclosed properties in the neighborhood. LBWN has minimized the number of vacant foreclosed properties with its Turnkey Renovation Program (see story at right), which rehabs dilapidated houses and sells them to owner-occupants. The program, created in 2008, has rehabbed 15 properties.

LBWN also is concerned about maintaining vacant properties in the community regardless of who owns them and where they are in the foreclosure process.

For example, “zombie” properties are susceptible to maintenance issues, vandalism and criminal activities. Zombies are homes that owners move out of before the foreclosure process is finished, but the lender never actually takes ownership.

John-Gomez said that given the resources it has, the city is doing a good job of maintaining the properties it owns. But, she added, banks have a responsibility to keep up their properties as well.  She said that collaboration among the neighbors, the city and the banks is essential.

“I think a lot of it is relationship cultivation with the banks,” John-Gomez said. “I also think just being a partner with the city and doing a team effort is a good thing. We have to work together in order to improve the property.”

Citywide, there are 2,400 foreclosed homes, of which 1,200 are owned by the city, 300 have been resold and 272 have been demolished. That leaves about 600 homes the city is responsible for maintaining, according to Aaron Szopinski, director of housing policy for the city.

Karen Taylor, who handles tax foreclosures for the Department of City Development, said the city routinely peruses blocks and keeps track of upkeep on foreclosed properties.

“We have listing brokers who do a weekly drive-by to see the condition and report to us any issues we may need to address,” Taylor said. “We have a real estate staff member who goes out to check properties. As complaints come in … we have to go out and take a look at it. Staff members are always out checking on properties. If there’s a problem with a property, they will let us know.”

In some cases, John-Gomez said the only way neighbors can make progress on maintaining a property is to dig in and fix it on their own rather than waiting for someone else to take care of it. LBWN tells neighbors that if a house on the block has really high grass, for example, they should consider cutting the lawn themselves.

John-Gomez added that it’s important to sell foreclosed homes immediately.

“We can’t just let a foreclosure sit there,” John-Gomez said. “Once it’s foreclosed and on the market, the neighborhood has a responsibility to try to help sell that house.”


Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to a property that is outside the boundaries of Layton Boulevard West. The story has been updated.

Turnkey program makes 180-degree turnaround for foreclosed homes

As Jeremy Belot rests on the front porch of 803 S. 31st St., he listens to ‘90’s music coming from the paint-stained boom box radio. He sits tall, filled with pride and accomplishment. The sawdust virtually woven into the fabric of his clothing and busy construction workers around him remind Belot of how far a once-struggling historic Milwaukee neighborhood has come.

Belot is the creator and project manager of Layton Boulevard West Neighborhood's Turnkey Renovation Program, which acquires, renovates and sells homes exclusively in the Layton Boulevard West neighborhood.

In 2008, when the Milwaukee housing crisis was at its peak, Belot and Layton Boulevard West Neighbors (LBWN) came up with the renovation program to help freeze the number of blighted and crumbling buildings in the neighborhood.

Some homes need a facelift while others desperately require more.

“Sometimes there’s so much water damage and decay that we basically have to completely gut the entire home and build it back up. Other times there’s homes that have a lot of character remaining… so we try to restore it,” he said.

When Belot gets up from the porch he smiles and waves at the neighbor known to the workers as Colonel. Colonel offers a quiche to Charlotte John-Gomez, LBWN’s executive director, and a few workers.

"Take it; there's one left," Colonel says to John-Gomez as he reaches over the guardrail putting the plate within arm’s reach.

This sense of community is evident in the immigrant neighborhood full of working people. The block on 31st Street is typically quiet, except for the sound of drills, saws, hammers and the occasional "heads up" warning from one worker to another.

The home where Belot sits is getting a major update and waiting for a family to move in. Belot said people on the 800 block are not only excited about their new neighbors, but also grateful for the program, which provides a sense a community.

“If we can acquire it and then renovate it and make it have a curb appeal on the exterior and make it beautiful… it’s going to attract a good buyer and then [residents] can have a good neighbor and that uneasiness can go away,” he said.

Kazuoa Yang, who lives on the top floor of the Colonel’s duplex, has forged a bond with the turnkey team. Though construction can get loud at times, Yang is thankful the house next door will no longer be a potential magnet for crime and mischief.

"We’re so happy that it’s not going to be empty anymore,” Yang said.

Since 2008, 15 homes have been updated through the program, and there are still 48 city- and bank-foreclosed homes in the neighborhood.

Belot’s focus is on the four to five houses that the program is refurbishing, updating or completely gutting at any given time.

"We have some homes that have just been neglected and often those are the ones that do fall into foreclosure,” said Belot, who sees the opportunity for a 180-degree turnaround in those situations.

“We can turn them into a home that hopefully has another 100 years of life because of the improvements that we made to it.”

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Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service is a project of United Neighborhood Centers of Milwaukee (UNCOM).