This past summer, as temperatures reached into the 90s and the humidity was just as high, Francisco Hernandez talked about the sweat equity he had poured and the investment he had made into his house over the past few months.
Every afternoon after work and on most Saturdays, he spent time at the little three bedroom, one bath house on West Orchard Street on Milwaukee’s South Side. A new hot water heater, new drywall, copper wiring and ductwork had been added. Floors had yet to be installed, walls painted, bathroom and kitchen remodeled in the house, but to the Hernandez family, it’s already home.
While he didn’t downplay the work involved to move his family of five into their new home, he was quick to point out who is responsible for helping them realize their dream of becoming homeowners: ACTS Housing.
“Becoming a homeowner is not easy here,” said Hernandez, a native of Jalisco, Mexico who moved to the United States nine years ago. “The only thing I can say is that if it were not for the help that they gave us, I wouldn’t have a house.”
Since 1991, the nonprofit has helped 1,636 families like the Hernandezes purchase affordable homes in economically challenged neighborhoods in Milwaukee. The agency is known for representing families who face multiple barriers to owning their own homes and connecting them to foreclosed properties that have become a neighborhood burden. On average, families that work with ACTS earn less than $34,000 annually and often do not have the credit history or funds necessary to buy a home.
Since 2008, when the foreclosure crisis started to ravage Milwaukee’s neighborhoods, ACTS has returned more than 360 foreclosed homes to full occupancy. It does that by providing a variety of services including homebuyer counseling and real estate brokerage services. Last year alone, it helped 39 families purchase tax foreclosed properties, which was more than any other broker in Milwaukee. The city currently holds title to 1,072 tax foreclosed properties.
As ACTS specializes in foreclosures, many of which have been abandoned and vandalized, the selling price is considerably lower than traditional homes for sale. In 2012, ACTS sold 44 homes for less than $5,000. The Hernandez home, which they purchased for $3,500, sat vacant for nearly a year. During that time, much of the house’s materials had been stolen and several windows broken. Knowing that challenge with such distressed properties, the agency also helps families find a contractor and often provides a rehab loan ranging from $3,000 to $5,000 to cover materials or labor.
“The toughest deals are the ones that we think are the most valuable,” assistant director Michael Gosman said. “We are helping the family and helping the block.”
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$250 so ACTS can provide free homebuyer counseling for a prospective homeowner
$1,000 for rehab staff to help a family reclaim a vandalized foreclosure
$3,300 to sponsor a family’s journey from renter to homeowner