MILWAUKEE, Wis. — One Milwaukee man is working to improve neighborhoods in the city and create homeownership opportunities along the way.
According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, Milwaukee ranks the lowest in Black homeownership among its peer cities.
Kurt Owens is the founder and president of Bridge Builders, a neighborhood revitalization organization. The mission of Bridge Builders is to inspire inner-city innovation that will holistically transform neighborhoods one block at a time.
Owens said the organization is shaped by four main pillars: Cultural, spiritual, economic and physical transformation.
Owens is a Milwaukee native and a pastor in the community. After living in Milwaukee’s north side for over 20 years, he wanted to help the community in ways that stretch beyond the four walls of a church.
“We want to see what does it look like to be the hands and feet of love in our community and doing life with people right where they’re at, whether they come to a church service or not,” said Owens.
Owens said Bridge Builders invests directly in the lives of the people on the block. The group looks at infrastructure and streetscape improvements, code enforcement and removal of slum and blight as key steps toward restoring a block.
Their target area is over 170 blocks, covering the Thurston Woods and Old North Milwaukee neighborhoods.
“We want people to have safe, affordable housing right here in this community but also be a part of the fabric of the community we’re building around here,” said Owens.
It all started with Owens and a couple of volunteers.
“We began to do a lot of work in the alleyway and all of a sudden the drug deals happening in our alleys stopped because there was a lot of positive activity that was happening,” he said.
Jerry Gainer is one of those volunteers. He’s neighbors with Owens and when he found out about this initiative, he said he had to jump on board.
“Ever since then we’ve been growing and doing our projects and kind of just transforming the neighborhood and it’s been really going well,” said Gainer.
The organizations helps make improvements to current properties that residents live in or acquire problematic properties. It’s spearheading homeownership in the community.
“Us selling these properties to local families and getting them in there increases homeownership in the city,” said Gainer.
Owens is working on a bigger project called “Reclaim the Block.” The goal is to raise $1.9 million to purchase and remodel 20 homes in their target area.
“One of the greatest ways of building wealth in our community is through homeownership,” said Owens. “Taking a renter and helping them become a homeowner will definitely impact their ability for economic freedom.”
As they work toward that goal, he says they’ll continue to make the neighborhoods a safer and affordable place to live.
To learn more about the about Bridge Builders, click here.