When you enter Brenda Brown’s office, one of the first things you see is a decorative quote on the wall that reads: “begin each day with a grateful heart.” It is clear by her bubbly personality and warm smile that this is a mantra she takes seriously: she is a person who lives her life full of gratitude.
ACTS won a contract with the City of Milwaukee to staff the City’s lease-to-own program. Brenda Brown, an ACTS Housing counselor operates the program for the City, Brenda recently took over the position from Coretta Herring, who has moved on to be a full time realtor with ACTS Housing (see picture below).
Brenda explained the City of Milwaukee’s Lease to Own program to me first: it is a program designed to help families and individuals that find themselves in an challenging predicament. When a landlord, for whatever reason, stops paying taxes on the property, the property is foreclosed on by the city. The property sometimes still has tenants in it, often tenants that have been paying their rent. The City’s real estate team goes and meets with the families to make sure the house is decent and habitable. If it is, they ask the tenant if s/he would like to continue living there, most tenants say yes. Tenants then sign a contract with the city to continue renting from the city and are then given the first chance to purchase the home for $1.
This is where Brenda comes in. She explained her role:
“I work with them to transition from being a renter to homeowner. It’s my job to analyze the situation, help them understand this is a golden opportunity, and help make it happen. I help fix any judgments, collections, and talk to people about money management.” It’s not all financial, Brenda also talks with families about the big picture of homeownership, and what it can all mean: “I ask them, where do you see yourself in the next 3 to 5 years? What are some stories you can tell me about you and your family that are positive since you’ve been in this house?”
Brenda explains that all counseling is done on a one on one basis, since every family is different. Tenants in the program pay their bills, property taxes and get homeowners insurance, and are able to own the home without a mortgage.
Delving into the world of personal finance and mortgages may be daunting to some, but for Brenda, it has been a challenging and rewarding career. She started her career owning a cleaning company years ago, becoming a banker, working at a mortgage company for seven years, right up until the foreclosure crisis in 2008. At that point, Brenda explained: “I thought, ‘uh oh’ I couldn’t even get families approved for a basic FHA mortgage. It was a tough time.” Brenda left the world of mortgages to help counsel families facing foreclosure: “I argued with banks, advocated for families to stay in their homes and went to Court with families for their foreclosure hearings. I helped a lot of people stay in their homes but I had to help a lot of people transition out. My heart was broken.” After an inability to approve mortgages, and counseling families through foreclosure, Brenda says she feels her career has come full circle: “This job shows me the flip side, a different way, how the foreclosure turned out to be a little brighter for some families.” Brenda’s focus on the families she works with is admirable. When she began working for the City’s Lease to Own Program, she had 46 families.
The first thing she did was schedule a meeting with every single family.
Hearing Brenda talk about her career and her work is inspiring. For her, it has been a journey, with one common thread throughout: to help people,
“I have no fear about what my purpose in life is. I’m very clear on what my assignment is – it is to serve others. That’s what my assignment is, and it has been for a very long time.”
We are thankful to have Brenda living out this purpose in service to ACTS families.