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Milwaukee Habitat celebrates 500th house

By Julie Gurnon

The weeklong blitz build that began in Milwaukee’s Washington Park neighborhood June 18 now holds a special place in the hearts of Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity staff members and supporters.

One of the seven houses that volunteers began building that week is the affiliate’s 500th home.


Renee Walls get busy building her first home — and Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity’s 500th home — in Milwaukee’s Washington Park neighborhood. Photo credit: Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

But it’s the first home for Renee Walls, 48, a security guard at Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts in Milwaukee. Walls will share the home with her son, Alonzo, 19, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and her father, who is battling cancer and now resides in a nursing home.

“I’m looking forward to bringing him home,” Walls told Nathan Imig, a producer for 88Nine RadioMilwaukee.  “I’d rather have him be with me.”

What are Wall’s feelings about impending homeownership?

“I’m speechless.  That’s about the only way I can sum it up.  I’m just happy,” she said.

Both Walls and her son were on site that day, earning their sweat-equity hours and building alongside volunteers from Wells Fargo and the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps.

The Wells Fargo Housing Foundation donated $50,000 toward the 500th home, and more than 100 Wells Fargo employees volunteered on the construction site during the week.

“We are grateful to Wells Fargo for the generous contribution it provided to help us realize this incredible milestone,” said Brian Sonderman, Milwaukee Habitat’s executive director, during the June 13 announcement.

Funds and labor from dozens of additional companies and faith communities also made the blitz build possible, as did funding from the second round of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Habitat for Humanity International was awarded $137.6 million in NSP2 funds in February 2010, and Milwaukee Habitat is one of seven affiliates serving as developers, putting the funds to use at the local level. By the time the grant ends in February 2013, NSP2 funds will have helped build 90 affordable, energy-efficient homes for hardworking Milwaukeeans.

Georgia Pabst, a reporter with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, focused on NSP2 in her June 15 article about Milwaukee Habitat’s 500th home.

Pabst interviewed Yves LaPierre, a real estate analyst for Milwaukee’s department of city development.

“For Milwaukee, Habitat has been an important and long-standing partner,” he told Pabst. “With the ill effects of the foreclosure crisis, we knew we could turn to Habitat, and we worked with them to step up their building program.”

The city of Milwaukee did just that, selling the vacant lots to Milwaukee Habitat for $1 each.

Although the affiliate has surpassed its 500th home and will wrap up NSP2 early next year, there are no plans to slow down. On the contrary, it adopted a new strategic plan for 2012-16 with a four-part focus on revitalizing one targeted neighborhood, increasing collaboration with community stakeholders, providing additional support and training to partner families, and measuring and monitoring impact.

The need to keep moving forward was the message Sonderman gave that first morning of the blitz build week.

“We won’t rest until every resident in this city and in this county has a decent, affordable place to live,” he said.

Julie Gurnon is the NSP2 writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International’s Editorial Services, based in Americus, Georgia.