Housing in Milwaukee

Last January I wrote about Bold Ideas for Milwaukee. I said I wanted to do more to visit the neighborhoods. Well, I’ve done that. It’s changed my mind on a couple of things, and opened my eyes in so many ways.

About that same time one of my children suggested ACTS Housing as an organization who might be a good match for all of my free time. It turns out the kid was right. After meeting with Assistant Director Michael Gosman I realized some of what I do for fun – photos and writing – might help the group.

I’ve been going to their home sale events. The house isn’t actually auctioned off, but rather, a lottery is held to determine the order of opportunity to purchase the home for a few thousand dollars. ACTS Housing works with a potential home buyer to facilitate loans, clean up credit, set renovations plans – whatever is necessary to help that buyer to the goal of owning a home. The homes are all from a list of tax foreclosures held by the City of Milwaukee. Most recently the push is to match vacant and vandalized homes on that list with an owner.

The events are well attended. The houses are in very rough condition. Here are a few photos. You’ll notice evidence of drug use from squatters. One house had used condoms scattered across the floor. (Spared you that photo!) Another had been vacated quickly. There were half-filled prescription bottles with the owners name in a bedroom. The kitchen pantry was still full.





In January I wrote that Milwaukee might need to consider bulldozing more homes in order to remedy the blight for some neighborhoods. Now I stand corrected. It’s matching these homes to new owners that serves the immediate community better. ACTS feels that tipping a majority of a neighborhood towards owner occupied housing is the key to healing housing in Milwaukee. I have to say, I’ve become a believer in this different approach.

Earlier this week, it appears Senator Ron Johnson did, too, when he toured a couple of houses with ACTS.

I made much of the same tour at the end of July. On the bus were Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy and 15th District Alderman Russell Stamper. Both men were impressive. Murphy talked of being baptized at St. Rose, a church in the area ACTS Housing targets. Stamper thanked Father Dennis Lewis from St. Michael’s who started ACTS for his commitment to the Urban Day School where Stamper had been a student.

There’s another advantage to spending so much time in the city, and that’s learning the rhythm of the neighborhoods. Though our news cycles are filled with shootings, these neighborhoods are filled with people who want to live safely. Their daughters are double-dutch rope jumping at the end of the street. Their men are sitting on porches making sure you make eye contact as you walk by. If one happens to ask you a question, you should be polite enough to answer.

I’ve become a member of the development committee. I wouldn’t mind helping them reach their goals. I hope you will consider joining me in learning more. My next assignment is to interview James Ferguson, the man in the photo from that MJS story, and learn how his family has benefited from growing community in Milwaukee with the help of ACTS Housing. You’ll be seeing what I discover soon.


  1. Looks like an excellent organization, Cindy. Is it in the Milwaukee area or Brookfield?

  2. Milwaukee.