Foreclosures and vacant homes in some of Milwaukee’s most challenging neighborhoods – sounds like a pretty grim subject, right? But, without sugar coating the serious problems involved, an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Monday offered optimistic and upbeat perspectives.
Two reasons were highlighted: There are programs underway in the city that are successfully taking empty homes, reviving them, and putting them in the hands of eager owners who are want to be successful, responsible owners. And Milwaukee’s foreclose and abandoned home problems are less formidable and being managed more successfully than in some other urban centers.
Gousha spoke with Michael Gosman, assistant director of ACTS Housing; Willie Smith, director of housing for the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation; and Aaron Szopinski, housing policy director for the City of Milwaukee. ACTS and the Northwest Side organization are both non-profits involved in turning vacant homes around and putting new owners in them.
Gosman, previously an attorney with a Milwaukee firm, said he met the ACTS team as a volunteer and saw a considerably different and more hopeful aspect of the central city than he knew. That led to him joining the effort. He said there are many people renting homes now who are eager to own in their neighborhoods. By doing that, they can save hundreds of dollars a month in many cases and return a property to a healthy role in its neighborhood.
Gosman said, “We assume the families are strong. They come to us and prove us right every day.” ACTS helps families through the process of buying and works to assure they are ready to for that step. Many of the homes are purchased for less than $5,000, but need huge amounts of work.
Since 1992, he said, ACTS has helped more than 1,800 families purchase homes and 77% of them are still in those homes.
“I definitely see hope,” said Smith. He described how his organization is working currently on rehabbing seven homes on the north side and sees great opportunities for people to benefit from the rehabbed properties.
Szopinski said the city owns about 1,100 vacant homes and banks own another 1,500. Some are beyond being saved, he said, but others can be returned to vibrant use, which makes everyone, including taxpayers, winners. He said more than 1,300 properties in the city have been returned to private ownership in the last five years.
Cities such as Cleveland and Baltimore have a lot more distressed homes and have not been as effective in responding (including razing houses beyond hope) as Milwaukee has been, Szopinski said.
He said a lot has been learned about how to help owners through potential foreclose crises and how to respond when homes are left vacant. His hope, he said, is to put himself out of a job as the city’s ”foreclosure czar.”
Video of the one-hour conversation may be watched by clicking here.