Community First has received a $230,000 grant to fund the salaries of two local developers who have joined the organization and will help it serve more residents.
Community First works to improve the quality of life for Milwaukee residents – specifically senior citizens and their neighborhoods – by offering affordable housing opportunities for individuals and families.
The money comes from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago’s Diverse Developer Initiative, which funds initiatives that support “diverse developers of affordable housing,” according to its website.
Now, with two more developers on his team, Rafael Garcia, the executive director and founder of Community First, said he is excited to be able to help more of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Last year, with only two staff members, the organization was awarded the Mayor’s Design Award for converting MPS’ former 37th Street School into 37th Street School Historical Senior Apartments, which are affordable apartments for older residents.
“Now, we have the opportunity to continue doing projects like the 37th Street School Senior Apartments,” a collaboration between Heartland Housing and Community First, Garcia said.
“We have the opportunity to do developments and strengthen the entire neighborhood around that with more resources.”
Community First is primarily responsible for administering the City of Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Improvement Program, or NIP, a housing rehabilitation loan program for low-income homeowners that uses federal funds.
“We’re keeping people in their homes, which consequently saves money for you, me, the government and taxpayers,” Garcia said. “The alternative is that a home becomes a boarded-up foreclosed home that’s a blight on the neighborhood that taxpayers are spending money to upkeep and/or it costs money to house people with homelessness. It costs money for services for people who are homeless.”
Michelle Long, one of the developers the grant pays for, was already with Community First but has moved into a new position as the organization’s lead development director. She stresses the importance of affordable housing.
“Avoiding foreclosure means that we’re keeping one more unit of affordable housing available because once it becomes foreclosed it goes back into the world as something that may not be affordable,” she said. “So, for as long as we keep these people in their homes, that unit remains affordable.”
Long said she is excited to be part of Community First.
“When I came in, Community First was on the tail end of the 37th Street project,” she said. “So, it’ll be exciting to see a project from idea to completion.”
Alejandro Rodriguez, the newest member of Community First, came to Milwaukee from Mexico when he was 7 years old and spent most of his life on the South Side.
“Affordable housing is also workforce housing,” he said. “Sometimes people have this misconception that affordable means that it’s going to hurt the neighborhood when really, it’s going to make it better because now those people that work in the neighborhood can actually live close to where they work.”
He’s happy to be in a space where he doesn’t see others who look like him.
“Just being out there with people can influence someone that looks like you,” he said. “For me, following someone like Rafael and going into commercial real estate makes a small impact on the next people from my neighborhood.”
Both Long and Rodríguez are graduates of the Marquette University ACRE, or Associates in Commercial Real Estate, program with hopes of expanding their careers in commercial real estate.
Garcia said though the team is still small, he’s excited about the opportunity.
“I’ve spent a lot of time building relationships and putting people in a position to win, now I have these smarter people around me that I can connect with those relationships and set them in a position to win and push Community First forward,” he said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on being able to do a lot with a little and now we’ll be able to do more.”
For more information
For more information on Community First, you can check out its website.
Congratulations, Michelle on the promotion and Alejandro on your new positions. Happy to have Community First in our area helping residents.