On February 26, about sixty people joined ACTS Housing as it hosted its panel discussion “Locked Out: Solutions to the Black Homeownership Decline” at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, 2620 W. Center.
Panelists for the evening were: Adam Carr, Deputy Editor for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service; Bill Tisdale, President & CEO for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council; Danell Cross, Executive Director of Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, Inc. The panel was moderated by Dorothy York, ACTS Housing’s Associate Director.
The panel came on the heels of the 2018 community-wide reading of The Color of Law which examined the federal, state, and municipal policies that kept African-Americans from participating in homeownership.
The legacy of those laws was a pointed feature in the discussion.
Carr, who co-led the city’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Milwaukee, showed a few photos and news clips that illustrated the pervasiveness of housing discrimination in the city.
“It is important because this happened on the streets of our city,” Carr said. “One of the most important civil rights movements of our time happened in Milwaukee…we don’t talk about that largely because of white shame and the fact that we don’t want to admit that our institutions were built on racism.”
Tisdale echoed those sentiments.
“Property is, in fact, what leads to wealth…these institutions were designed to institute division, and maintain that division,” Tisdale said.
Cross urged creativity to get African-Americans into homeownership and to keep the community in mind.
“Start investing in human capital. People can’t keep up with the income requirements of these banks. The excuse is if they don’t have the money they shouldn’t own a home, but we got people spending $1200 a month on rent, we’ve got people who can own a home,” Cross said. “We have to push the City and businesses to think differently and tell them, if you aren’t going to support the community, we won’t support you.”
Tisdale stressed the need for education.
“Homebuyer counseling and education is key. Residents need to know what it takes and what to do, that’s key.”
Cross believes the solution is in stakeholders being active in the community.
“ACTS Housing came to our community and did a presentation…ACTS is showing them up, showing that all the excuses are just that: excuses,” she said. “ACTS is trusting people that nobody else trusts. They are lending money that no one else will lend to.”
Getting Your Home Winter Ready
Clean gutters and downspouts – Ensure that the water drains properly. Pooling water can cause damage to foundations, driveways and walkways
Drain and shut off exterior faucets and store hoses
Change your furnace filters – It is recommended that you change them monthly. Consider having a furnace check performed by a professional.
Change your batteries – Once a year you should be checking to make sure all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide devices are working.
Install weather stripping or caulking around windows and doors to prevent drafts and reduce heating bills
Clean window wells and check drainage
Check attic vents
Check that the exhaust ducts are clear
Simon Arenal and his wife Gregoria Copto were intimidated by the ACTS rehab process and saw a total of four homes.
They were anxious until they found their home in the Clarke Square neighborhood and saw its potential.
They purchased a city-tax foreclosure for $3,500 and received a $25,000 home rehab loan through ACTS Lending.
ACTS realtor Tess Wynn said, at the time they closed on the property, it had three purchase offers.
“It was a very hot, competitive property,” Wynn said.
The family worked with Senior Rehab Counselor Ramon Guadarrama.
The home needed electrical work, had water damage on its first floor, had prior work done without a permit which needed to be redone, and needed an updated kitchen.
In addition, the family worked on the bathroom floors, cabinetry, and more. They loved their bathroom tile so much they used leftover tile for the table in their dining room.
In total, the rehab project on the first unit took them just three months.
Simon said owning a home had been his family’s dream.
“We’d been wanting to do this for a long time. Thank you to ACTS for helping us make it a reality,” Simon said.
While they are living in one part of the house, they are completing the rehab on the second part of the house. Simon says the second unit is where his brother will live.
‘We’re so happy to have something to take care of,” Simon said.
See the transition of repairs to the Arenal household below.
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.”