Brenda Brown and her husband, Henry, have been living in the lone house on North 20th and West Walnut streets for over 13 years.
After building their home in 2008, they expected more homes would follow. But the economy crashed, and new neighbors never came.
Now Brenda Brown is a part of efforts to get people back into the Walnut Circle and Josey Heights neighborhoods near downtown.
As a lender for Great Midwest Bank, Brown is personally helping people prepare and start building homes in the two neighborhoods through the city’s New Homes Initiative.
The market-rate project is an attempt to build new homes on the vacant lots at 20th and Walnut and on North 12th and West Lloyd streets. The city partnered with the Emem Group, which created new home design options exclusively for these subdivisions.
The City of Milwaukee is selling 20 empty lots to qualified families for $1 and providing them a $30,000 forgivable grant to build if they live in the new homes for at least seven years.
To qualify, homebuilders must make a combined annual income from $80,000 to $90,000 a year and have a credit score of at least 620.
“This may seem expensive because it is,” Brown said. “This initiative is building dream homes.”
Brown said there are six homes being built for the spring.
The power of persistence
The program has been years in the making for Heidi Moore, who recently moved into her new home in Josey Heights.
Moore has been trying to make building in Josey Heights a reality since 2014 when representatives of the City of Milwaukee came to a parent meeting at her children’s school, Milwaukee College Prep’s Lloyd Street campus, to discuss the potential for new developments in the area.
That plan flopped, but Moore was persistent over the years. She reached out to different organizations and banks and sat in many meetings, sharing her story with people across the city.
She said it wasn’t until she met Michael Emem, the president and CEO of Emem Group, that building in Josey Heights became within reach.
Moore said Emem kept her abreast of what was going on.
“This was a difficult process,” she said. “But I’m happy everyone came together to make this happen.”
Kelly Carter, 50, is one of the first people to take advantage of the initiative and is currently building her dream home.
A Milwaukee native and a nurse in the central city, Carter felt it was important to build in Josey Heights, which is located at North 12th and West Lloyd streets.
“I can’t comfortably make money off of people who live here and not also live here,” Carter said. “Milwaukee has been nothing but good to me.”
She said despite some struggles, the process has been worth it.
“I don’t make a lot of money, and this wouldn’t have been affordable to me without this deal,” Carter said. “I have an 11-year-old daughter and I wanted to show her what all is possible.”
Brown said she had concerns about property taxes rising, but as chairwoman of the Johnson Park Neighborhood Association, Browns keeps up with available resources.
“I know most of my neighbors, and the bulk of them have lived here for over 20 years,” Brown said. “I am willing to work and support my neighbors, so there is no displacement.”
She said she hopes the project will create a stronger neighborhood and community.
Brown said homeownership brings wealth, and she wants to help others realize their dreams.
“Even if you can’t build your dream right now, you may be more prepared to buy your starter home than you realize,” Brown said.
For more information and other homeowner resources
To connect with Brown, you can call 414-352-8713 or email Brenda.email@example.com.
Social Development Commission can assist with lead, weatherization and other housing-related issues. You can call 414-906-2700.
Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council can help homeowners protect themselves from mortgage and foreclosure prevention scams as well as from predatory home loans. You can call 414-278-1240.
Housing Resources Inc. can provide counseling to homeowners and has programs to help people prevent foreclosure. You can call 414-461-6330.
ACTS Housing offers counseling and real estate agent representation to help low-income families transition from renting to homebuying. You can call (414) 933-2215.
Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee: The Housing Authority’s Section 32 program offers guidance through the homebuying process and sells rehabilitated homes to low-income residents. The agency offers some grants and subsidies for down payment assistance and forgivable second mortgages for current HACM homeowners. You can call (414) 286-5405.
Bronzeville Resident Homeownership Initiative: The Bronzeville Homebuyer Assistance Program provides forgivable loans up to $25,000 and technical assistance to help with property renovation needs for residents buying city-owned foreclosed homes in the Bronzeville Initiative area. You can call (414) 286-5608.
Milwaukee Rising rehabilitates and sells foreclosed properties in the Sherman Park neighborhood. Matching grants of up to $5,000 are available for homeowners wanting to make repairs and improvements. Contact Bob Connolly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. You can call (414) 751-0755
Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, or WHEDA, offers resources for homebuyers. You can call 608-266-7884.