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Sherman Park Home Program Draws Crowd

Several hundred people packed City Hall on Monday to hear more about a new program aimed at encouraging people to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed homes in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood.

The $1 million program will subsidize the renovation of 100 tax-foreclosed homes. Those houses will be sold for $1 each to developers or others who agree to buy five or more city-owned foreclosed properties in the Sherman Park area. Participating developers will be eligible for grants of up to $10,000 per home after renovating them to code-compliant standards and hiring at least one unemployed or underemployed worker for each house purchased.

"We want to make a difference by turning vacant homes into neighborhood assets," Mayor Tom Barrett said Monday. "And, at the same time, offer job opportunities to people most in need."

The work must be done by June 2018. The houses being renovated must be in the greater Sherman Park area, bounded by N. 60th St., N. 20th St., W. Capitol Drive and W. Lloyd St.

The program drew a flood of interest. But some people who attended Monday's City Hall meeting said they were worried it would favor large, out-of-state developers rather than smaller, local businesses and families hoping to purchase homes.

"I think it's good, but it's going to be hard for the small businesses," said Virginio Miranda, a Milwaukee resident who runs Umbrella Maintenance Services. "I hope all of this is going to benefit the city, the community. As a community, I think we can provide better houses than these investors. They don't care — they come, take the money from the city and they go to wherever they live."

Miranda said he hoped to work with a group of friends to purchase and rehabilitate five homes by hiring local residents, then sell them to families who will live there.

"That's how we're going to bring back the communities," he said.

Ald. Khalif Rainey said he hoped the program would be just one of many efforts by city leaders to fix blighted properties and encourage homeownership in Sherman Park and throughout the city of Milwaukee.

"For me, the potential impact of the program is to have homes that are currently nuisance properties, currently sitting unoccupied in our neighborhoods, to be housed with families. To be back on the tax rolls, to make our neighborhoods safer," Rainey said.

Thea Durawa, who already owns properties in Sherman Park, challenged the city's decision to set a five property minimum, saying it favors "large firms" rather than people who've already invested in the neighborhood.

"I'm interested in building up the community, and if that means buying a property and fixing it up, I absolutely am interested in doing that," Durawa said. "I'm not interested in becoming a developer."

The money funding the program was announced in the wake of violent unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood in August.

The program is being funded as part of a $2 million grant from the state Department of Financial Institutions for the demolition and rehabilitation of blighted properties.

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