By Andrea Waxman
Neighborhood News Service
As ACTS Housing Specialist Blia Cha drew a red ticket and called out the number, a small group of potential homeowners standing in front of her display table leaned forward expectantly and studied their tickets. At stake was their ranking on a list of hopeful buyers vying for the chance to purchase a $3,500 home in the Washington Park neighborhood.
To be eligible to buy one of the three foreclosed homes for sale at this low price, a buyer must agree to rehabilitate the house and live in it for more than five years after closing.
“There is significant rehab work needed and that’s part of the reason the sale price is so low,” said Michael Gosman, assistant director of Allied Churches Teaching Self-Empowerment (ACTS). ”Even taking into account the work that the family would need to do… it’s well worth the effort.”
ACTS’ partners, Sweet Water Foundation, Milwaukee Bicycle Works and Urban Ecology Center, will also contribute services to families who purchase homes through the Washington Park Renewal Project. Sweet Water will help new homeowners install indoor and outdoor vegetable gardens, enhancing the families’ ability to grow their own food. Milwaukee Bicycle Works will provide fully outfitted bikes, bike gear, tool kits, tire pumps, and instruction on bike maintenance and urban bike-riding skills to two members of each family. The Urban Ecology Center will provide family memberships and enrollment in the Young Scientists Club for children ages 7 to 12.
The drawing took place at the end of the Washington Park Partners annual meeting and celebration held recently at Our Next Generation, 3421 W. Lisbon Ave. After a buffet dinner to celebrate the season, the partnership’s seven committees reported on this year’s progress toward the goals of the WPP Sustainable Community Plan.
The housing sale was introduced by the housing committee and its member organization, Allied Churches Teaching Self-Empowerment (ACTS), which administers the housing portion of the Washington Park Neighborhood Renewal Project. ACTS is a nonprofit that promotes affordable homeownership. According to the group, owner-occupied homes also foster self-empowerment and reduce blight, neighborhood deterioration and poverty.
About 15 people signed up for each home, most of whom indicated an interest in all three opportunities, according to ACTS Housing’s Executive Director Carl Quindel. His staff started calling the first “ranked” family for each home right after the meeting, setting up one-on-one housing counseling sessions. “It generally takes 30 to 60 days to find the “highest-ranked” qualified family, finalize a rehab plan, and close,” Quindel said.
“Because these $3,500 houses are not move-in ready,” Gosman said, “we have our two rehab managers, who graduated from the UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning, put together a detailed scope of work before the home is purchased. That gives the homeowner a really good idea of what it’s going to take to get the home to be a safe, code-compliant place to raise their families.” ACTS also helps homeowners with financial counseling and access to loans.
The next homes that will be offered for sale as part of the Washington Park Neighborhood Renewal Project will be at Winter Fest, Saturday, Jan. 26, noon to 4 p.m. at the Washington Park Urban Ecology Center, 1859 N. 40th St.
ACTS maintains a relationship with owners well beyond the sale. “When families are having problems with a rehab and they need advice on how to do something, it’s very frequent that they call us in to provide help,” Gosman said. He added that homeowners even have called ACTS five or 10 years down the line.
Also at the annual meeting, committee chairs announced creation of the Washington Park Neighborhood Improvement District — the first for an existing neighborhood in Wisconsin; donation of new computers to Our Next Generation and United Methodist Children’s Services, 3939 W Lisbon Ave.; a grant for new community dental services; and production of a documentary about Washington Park.