Building community, one block at a time. There's a dedicated effort in Milwaukee to reclaim homes in neighborhoods that need attention.
James Reynolds, a Vietnam veteran and retired hardware store worker, is the perfect example of how it's working.
"I just love this porch," says Reynolds, who at 72-years-old, just became a first-time homeowner. "It feels like I saved the best for last."
Reynolds started renting the upper level of a house at Nash and North Ninth Street 16 years ago. From day one, he's done all the maintenance himself.
"Some people call this a bad neighborhood," he said. "But most people around here are just trying to work and raise their kids. There are a few bad apples. We need more people to buy homes and stay here to push those bad apples out."
Last year, Reynolds found out his landlord was behind on taxes, and the house was being taken over by the City of Milwaukee.
With the help of ACTS Housing, Reynolds took the necessary steps to buy the home at auction, and now rents out the lower unit.
"Now, I can live rent free," Reynolds said. "I'm a good landlord. Buying this property, cut my payment in half. I'll be able to pay off the mortgage in five years. Now that it's mine, I'm going to make so many improvements to this place."
ACTS Housing also provides some house repairs for every homeowner the organization helps.
"They fixed the roof and porch, poured some new concrete, improved my kitchen floor and downstairs bathroom, provided new gutters and down spouts," Reynolds said. "Even some young volunteers came over and helped clear out the attic and basement."
"Our mission is to help people who didn't think they could be a homeowner, become one," said Dorothy York, the Associate Director or ACTS Housing. "Helping people, helps these neighborhoods that need development. We're getting people in there who will own the home, care about the block and neighborhood, and do work to keep up their property."
It's an important mission, considering there are more than 1,000 city-owned homes in Milwaukee, and hundreds more owned by banks.
"It's a win-win for the city and for property owners," Reynolds said. "Let's open up some of these boarded-up homes. Being the owner of this home, I feel like I won the lottery. It's a great feeling. This is mine."
Reynolds will be awarded "Homeowner of the Year" by ACTS Housing Thursday night. If you'd like to learn more about the organization, just visit actshousing.org.