Homeownership is a cornerstone of the “American Dream,” but for many, it seems out of reach.
It can be difficult to qualify for a home loan, and saving for a down payment is daunting, especially for low- to moderate-income families.
However, Acts Housing, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, has helped thousands of working class and limited-income families transition from being renters to successful homeowners.
Acts Housing describes itself as a one-stop shop that provides all of the services a family needs to buy a home of their own, from homebuyer and financial coaching, to real estate brokerage, to home rehab support, to grant and loan administration.
At a CivicCon event April 11 in Pensacola, Michael Gosman, president of Acts Housing, will discuss how the process works and how it has changed the lives and trajectories of thousands of families.
“We’ve got a core belief at Acts that families, even of a modest income, even if they’ve got lots of barriers, can be very successful homeowners. And we’ve proven that in Milwaukee by helping more than 3,000 families purchase homes, often saving money in the process over what they were previously spending in rent.”
Acts was started by a coalition of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, churches 25 years ago. At its core, Acts serves as a shepherd for homebuyers, taking a family by the hand and guiding them through each and every step of the process.
“We want a family to come to us when they’re just beginning to think about homeownership,” Gosman said. “Regardless of whether they have poor credit, regardless of whether they have all the savings that they would need in order to put down a down payment, because it’s our job to work with them over a period of months or years … to help them go about this in the smartest possible way and to get into homeownership in a way that’s going to be sustainable.”
Early on, the organization starts by helping families improve their credit score and learn good financial habits so that they can save money and ultimately get pre-approved for a home loan.
“Once they’re ready to purchase a home, it’s not just like, ‘OK, good luck, find a bank that will lend to you,'” Gosman said. “Our team knows all of the the best mortgage products that exist in the markets we work in. And so we work with a family to help them understand what the best options are, that you don’t need to just take the first loan that someone offers you.”
Acts has a team of Realtors who work on behalf of clients. Acts even has a rehab mortgage lending partner, Acts Lending, which provides financing for families looking to purchase and repair distressed, foreclosed properties.
“We’ve built up systems that enable all of our team members to share information really well and create a situation for our families where it doesn’t feel like you’ve got these individual people who are helping you, but really like you’ve got a team that’s working together to support you.”
Discussing why Acts’ work is important, Gosman said there are myriad benefits such as increasing tax rolls and cleaning up blighted properties. But he stressed the most meaningful benefit is changing the trajectories of people, families and neighborhoods.
“The impact that (the program) can have is not just saving (clients) money through homeownership, though that’s important. It’s not just them having a nicer place to live, though that’s important. But frankly, it’s changing the way they see themselves and the way their kids see them. The way their network sees them. It starts to make them believe that they can accomplish other amazing things.”
Gosman said more than 90% of the people the program serves are people of color, primarily people who are Black and Hispanic.
“The fact that there’s a pathway to homeownership and that Black and brown families own their own homes, that kids are growing up in houses that their parents own, it creates a sense of hope that doesn’t exist in our community as broadly as we want it to,” he said.
In his tenure as president, Gosman has led the nonprofit’s first expansion outside of the city of Milwaukee, now a five-year initiative in Beloit, Wisconsin. Beloit’s success has begun drawing demand for Acts’ services from other cities. Gosman said the organization is interested in seeing the model replicated in hundreds of communities across the country.
“All those things could be created from scratch somewhere else, but it’s a lot of work. It’s taken us 26 years to do it,” Gosman said of Acts’ programs. “So what we’re really starting to think more intentionally about now, and it’s one of the reasons we’re excited to visit Pensacola and learn more about the community is, are there a way for us to support other communities that want to do something similar?”
Gosman hopes that Acts can share knowledge and potentially support communities that want to help their most underserved residents’ “American Dream” come true.
“Because we’ve had more than 3,000 families who’ve purchased homes through our program, there’s blocks and sections of the city that, they just feel a little bit different,” Gosman said. “People feel more connected to their neighbors, people have more pride in where they live, and that sort of impact, I think, carries with them throughout their professional life, throughout their parenting life, in ways that are really powerful.”
Gosman’s free, open-to-the-public presentation will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 11 at The REX Theatre, 18 N. Palafox St. in Pensacola. Registration is available by searching “CivicCon” at eventbrite.com. Anyone who registers online can submit a question to Gosman to be answered during the event.
The event is part of CivicCon, a partnership of the News Journal and the Studer Community Institute to empower communities to become better places to live, grow, work and invest through smart planning and civic conversations.
To learn more about CivicCon visit pnj.com/civiccon.