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Habitat for Humanity works to close the homeownership gap in Milwaukee

Habitat for Humanity
Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 07:11:34-04

If Milwaukee could build 1,000 homes or rental units a year - it would take 30 plus years to close the gap on the need for affordable in the city.

President Biden wants to close that gap with his $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill. Charles Benson looks into what that would mean for the rising demand for homeownership in Milwaukee.

The dream of owning a Habitat for Humanity home is possible with sweat equity and lots of love.

They are building three new homes in the Harambee Neighborhood near Keefe Avenue and Third Street.

You can see the inspiring messages marked on two-by-fours by volunteers helping to build these homes.

"We have been inundated over the last two to three months with homeownership applications," said Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity.

Sonderman sees the need every day. The nonprofit he runs has helped 1300 families with affordable housing since 1984, thanks to volunteers and generous donations. But the need continues.

"Right now, we think there's about a 33,000-unit gap in affordable housing in City of Milwaukee."

How do we close the gap? President Biden's $2.3 trillion-dollar American Jobs Plan includes 200 billion for affordable housing. The White House estimates 327,000 renters across Wisconsin spend way more than 30% - which is considered the rule of thumb - of their income on rent.

"This is about preparing America for the future," said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The former Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana is helping steer the massive spending bill through Congress.

But Republicans and some Democrats are raising concerns the infrastructure bill isn't just about roads, bridges, waterways and airports.

Benson: There's 200 billion housing to make it more affordable, 836 million for schools, another 400 billion for access to care facilities and quality of care, why is that in this bill?

Buttigieg: We think that infrastructure is the foundation that makes it possible to live well and to have a thriving economy and to us that absolutely includes housing.

Back in the Harambee neighborhood, Sonderman is closely watching the infrastructure bill debate.

Benson: What does it mean for communities like Milwaukee if something like this really happens?

Sonderman: It could be a significant game-changer for a community like Milwaukee.

Habitat for Humanity hopes to build 80 homes and provide 160 critical home repairs in Milwaukee over the next four years.

Sonderman knows it's going to take a team effort to undue the redlining history in Milwaukee that prevented homeownership in communities of color.

"These are generational impacts. This isn't something that happened 10 or 20 years ago," said Sonderman. "In order to deal with it, it can't be a one- or two-year effort. It really has to be a generational effort from the community to invest in a neighborhood like Harambee and the people of Harambee."

Habitat for Humanity homeowners' typical mortgage payment is between $500 -$800, that includes insurance and property taxes.

Homeowners also contribute hundreds of hours in "sweat equity" in the building of their home and others in the neighborhood as part of their down payment.

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