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With a raise-the-wall event, Habitat for Humanity launches its effort in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood

Date
April 8, 2021

Joined by Mayor Tom Barrett and others, Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity held a “raise the wall” event Wednesday at one of three homes the nonprofit is starting to build in the city’s Harambee neighborhood.

The homes, located in the 3400 block of North 3rd Street, are part of an effort to boost homeownership in the near north side neighborhood, where only 22% of residents own the homes they live in.

Habitat plans to construct 80 new homes over four years thanks to a $1 million gift from Bader Philanthropies, which several years ago spent $12 million to renovate a nearby building and moved its offices to the neighborhood.

Brian Sonderman, executive director for Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity, saw the start of construction as a sign of hope — for the future homeowners, the neighborhood and the city as a whole.

“It’s about the American dream, about leaving a better place for your children, (or better) situation for your children, than the one you grew up in,” he said. “We know that in the United States today, homeownership is a gamechanger when it comes to wealth creation.”

He noted that those who own homes can attain four times the wealth of renters.

Average mortgages, he added, run between $600 and $800 a month, while in the Harambee neighborhood rent can easily run $700 or more.

In Milwaukee, one out of three renters spends more than half their income on housing.

In the four-county metro area, the Black homeownership rate stands at 27.4%, compared with 70% for whites, according to U.S. Census data. That means nearly three out of four Black families do not own the home they live in, while nearly three out of four white families do. It’s one of the nation’s largest racial disparities in homeownership rates, and the gap barely narrows even just looking at the City of Milwaukee.

That means the demand is high. Earlier this year, when Habitat held an online orientation about its programs, it received 1,500 registrations in about 36 hours.

Sonderman noted that the revitalization of the Harambee neighborhood made it the right place for Habitat to focus its latest initiative.

“There are so many tremendous assets to build on — not just vacant lots to build homes — but tremendous community organizations, other nonprofits and business improvement districts,” he said. “It is really ripe for continued revitalization. We thought that this was a strategic place for us to invest for the next four years.”