ACTS Housing is in the running to receive $100,000 from Impact 100, a collective woman’s philanthropy group, in the family category.
According to its website, awardees in the family category are “projects or programs that strengthen or enhance the lives of children, adults and families living in the Greater Milwaukee area.”
On April 20 Impact 100 members sat for an all-women’s ACTS homeowner panel featuring: Ashlee Crowder, Marianne Peterson, Treesa Sellhausen, and Sofi as part of their site visit.
The panel was moderated by ACTS Housing’s Director of Development Rebecca Stoner.
“I had a beautiful experience with ACTS,” said Sofi who recently bought and rehabbed her home on Milwaukee’s North side. She said that although it was tough, ACTS Housing staff provided motivation to see the process through.
“We never lost faith because of how we were treated by ACTS staff,” Sofi said.
With the guidance of ACTS Housing’s Rehab Counseling team, Sofi and her husband (along with the help of her in-laws) started and completed the heating, plumbing and electrical rehab projects in just two months.
Her project remains one of the fastest home rehab projects the rehab team has seen.
The other panelists echoed Sofi’s sentiments about the level of inspiration they received from ACTS Housing staff.
“Their job was me,” Marianne Peterson said. “They will find a way to make this happen for you,” she said.
More than the experience at ACTS, panelists said that homeownership has greatly impacted them.
“It feels wonderful,” said Ashlee Crowder. “I don’t pay too much for my [rehab] loan. I just want to pay it off so that ACTS can help another family.”
Homeownership has also been a beacon for creative expression particularly for the Peterson-Sellhausen family who are artists.
“I am happy I finally have a place to lay out and work on my art,” said Treesa Sellhausen, daughter of Marianne Peterson.
Most, if not all, of the panelists said they continue to be excited about telling everyone about ACTS.
Marianne, who works at a hospital, carries ACTS business cards to work for the nurses who often complain about their rental properties.
“It all boils down to not being able to afford rents anymore,” she said. “There’s no security in renting and there’s no negatives to owning.”
The winners of the Impact 100 will be announced at a June 6 award ceremony.
Meet the ACTS team! You’ve stumbled upon an ACTS Team Member spotlight. These spotlights, published once a month, share what our team members do each day to make ACTS a success.
Priya Bhatia, Director of Lending and Rehab, sees links between her past careers and her work at ACTS Housing. The strongest link is that, similar to past roles, she empowers families to achieve their American dream.
The former immigration attorney worked with families to obtain their visas and says it’s similar to families purchasing their first home.
“I would help them navigate what can be a very intimidating process with an end result that makes a real impact on their lives,” she said of her time working in immigration. “I see parallels between that and what ACTS does.”
She found out about ACTS Housing through a lawyer friend who transitioned to nonprofit management and met and kept in touch with Michael Gosman.
“I was very impressed with ACTS and excited about the mission,” she said.
As Director of Lending and Rehab, Priya oversees the operations of the rehab counseling team and the operations of ACTS Housing’s subsidiary ACTS Lending.
ACTS Lending, established in 2014, provides homebuyers with a loan product if they don’t qualify for financing through traditional bank offerings.
She said ACTS creates opportunities for others to succeed by providing education whether it be financial or on how to do a renovation.
Priya can relate to that as well having done her own home rehab. Although she worked with a general contractor, she still had a ton of questions and had to do a lot of research.
“I find a lot of value in our rehab counselors and their advising homeowners to get the job done efficiently, safely and in the right order,” she said.
In the end she says the homeowner rehab process is all worth it. Much like it was for her.
“I have a home that I feel is really mine,” she said. “I feel it’s the same as families at ACTS who put in a lot of sweat equity.”
Sam Smith wants you to remember the three Cs of smart rehab: code, core, then cute. With 25 years’ experience in home rehab, Sam says he “knows everything.”
Code. Making sure the house meets city code requirements comes first. This often means pulling permits and working with a licensed professional in the areas of: plumbing, electricity, and structural work.
Sam says that code work should be left to the professionals—no matter how many YouTube videos are out there.
Core. Once that’s complete, you can move on to the core of the house which can best be described as things that protect you from the elements: roofing, windows, and doors. Sam says these things don’t normally require a licensed professional, but they should be done correctly to ensure safety.
Cute. Last, you should tackle making your house cute. This means painting, lighting, and window trims.
However, some “cute” repairs may also require permits.
An example Sam likes to use is the faucet. Yes, to replace your bathroom faucet you need a permit. A simple repair to your faucet doesn’t require a permit.
While some are attracted to fixer-uppers from shows on the HGTV network, Sam tempers those looking to purchase through ACTS with being realistic about rehab.
“We do not remodel. We rehab,” Sam said. “There’s no knocking out walls or pulling up hardwood floors.”
Sam, who once bought, rehabbed and rented his own 15 properties, says the ACTS model is better for the long-term financially.
“With rehab you get a lot more house for your buck.”
Nellie and Johnnie Ferguson, Sr. Photo Courtesy of the Ferguson Family
Once you meet Nellie Ferguson you won’t easily forget her or her family. Through the sounds of laughter when talking to her, comes the love she has for her late-husband Johnnie Ferguson Sr. and the pride she has in her eight children: James, Jessica, Mercedes, Jasmine, Phillip, Johnnell, Precious, and Johnnie Jr.
“We had four for him and four for me,” she said. “My kids include a lawyer, a banker, a cop, a dental hygienist, a phlebotomist, social worker, teacher and postal worker.”
She raised her children to be independent and homeownership was a part of that.
Nellie and her husband Johnnie Sr. bought their home through ACTS for $200 in 1997.
She fondly remembers working to rehab her home early-mornings before going to work and having her children help once they were out of school.
“We would get off of work, eat, and then go back to work,” she said. “John Worm [ACTS co-founder] came over one morning and the bathtub was outside.”
Ferguson Home/White House
She loves her home and refers to it as “the white house” with full understanding that people will ask if she’s referencing The White House in D.C.
Nellie believes homes everywhere should be valued as much.
“What’s wrong with the inner city?” she asked. “You call it the ghetto, I call it five minutes away from downtown. I wasn’t going to take my children to live in Brown Deer and live outside of my means.”
She enjoys many of the gems that remain in central-city Milwaukee including a corned beef sandwich from Jake’s Deli.
She has passed this love of the central city down to her children. Most of whom are ACTS homeowners themselves.
Most of the children in this photo are ACTS homeowners. Photo courtesy of Ferguson family.
Their decision to buy homes in the central city and fix them up may have come from Nellie and her husband’s decision to purchase theirs and seeing them do the rehab work when they were younger.
She makes it known she hates to see condemned, abandoned homes.
ACTS Housing’s mission is to promote affordable home ownership that fosters a low-income family’s ability to be self-empowered, thereby reducing community blight, neighborhood deterioration, and poverty. ACTS’ strategy is to generate home ownership opportunities for inner-city residents within a targeted neighborhood so that an entire community can be transformed and sustained. ACTS’ team provides home buying services throughout the city of Milwaukee.