Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County planning a big year

Scott Ash
The home built by Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County at 302 West Avenue is progressing nicely as seen on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013.
Published on: 12/31/2013

As Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County works to complete the home it started this fall, Executive Director Diane McGeen is making big plans for 2014.

The international nonprofit grew roots in Waukesha 25 years ago and has worked to build one to two homes each year for a family in need of a hand up.

However, in the next year McGeen said that generous donations and planning has allowed the organization to buy four lots for future builds, make big plans for future income and set theirs eyes on more unique projects in the future.

More builds

"My focus is to just make Habitat a real presence in Waukesha County as an affordable housing advocate. Up till now we've been doing one or two houses per year and that was it," McGeen said. "We want to ramp that up and start building closer to 3-5 homes per year. That would mean multiple builds at one time."

Part of that plan meant securing four lots so a continuous building process could happen throughout the year which sounds a lot easier than it is.

"Being what it is in Waukesha County developments have big square-footage requirements and that doesn't work for Habitat homes because we just don't build a 2,000-square-foot house," McGeen said. "Part of the struggle is finding what's called 'infill lots' which is a lot of record platted a long time ago when land had lesser restrictions."

McGeen said that lots are in the City of Waukesha but she keeps her eyes out for anything throughout Waukesha County.

"We received a Community Development Block Grant to purchase lots at the Treasurer's auction and we have some from there we'll be closing on," McGeen said. "It's that funding that keeps us going but every nickel we get from supporters is helpful."

The group recently received a $12,000 donation from GuitarTown that was earmarked for building the first home starting in 2014.

ReStore coming soon

McGeen said that the Waukesha Habitat for Humanity is poised to open a ReStore in 2014.

"To launch our growth in 2014 we're going to open a ReStore that will house new and used construction, household goods, furniture and appliances. That will fund two houses a year once fully operational," McGeen said. "Waukesha is prime for a ReStore because there's so much construction going on here and remodeling and even nice homes that are remodeling and what comes out of those homes is very sale able. We've got grants putting employees in place and we're very excited about that."

McGeen said the organization is still working out details as far as a location or a timeline.

Finding potential

That seems like a big enough job to tackle but McGeen, who started with the organization in July, is going another step further, exploring new opportunities in the community.

"In addition to building more homes in Waukesha County we would like to start other programs that Habitat already has in place," McGeen said. "One is called A Brush with Kindness and it is meant to help rehab houses. Instead of putting volunteers in a new construction site we find a house that needs to be painted or needs a wheelchair ramp."

McGeen said her ultimate goal would be to rehab several houses in one community or take one street and literally go door-to-door helping residents improve curb appeal.

"We want to make an impact, we want to be out there and we want to be a voice for affordable housing in Waukesha County. People think Waukesha County doesn't have a need but we do. Our poverty rate in Waukesha County is around 5 percent but we've got almost 400,000 people in this county which means 20,000 people are living below the poverty level and we can only help one or two of those families at a time so we will never run out of people to serve," McGeen said. "We're dealing with the working poor. These people have jobs but they still struggle to put food on the table. Food, clothing and shelter are needs that have to be addressed."


McGeen said the thing that excites her most about 2014 overall is getting more of the community involved.

"I think people think Habitat and they have to go swing a hammer and that's fun; people want to do that. But there's also so many other things people can do to help us. We've got committees for selecting families, marketing, fundraising. If somebody has a construction background and can be a supervisor or a volunteer coordinator," McGeen said.

If you're interested in learning more about how to donate to Habitat for Humanity Waukesha County, or how to get involved in the organization, visit www.hfhwaukesha.org or call (262) 309-6025.