MASTERCRAFT BUILDERS CONSTRUCTS NEW HOME FOR THE 2006 HABITAT FOR HUMANITY "BUILDERS BLITZ"
Milwaukee's Metcalfe Park neighborhood was a pounding racket of construction activity Monday, as several hundred building industry veterans launched a five-day blitz to produce 10 new homes.
"It's off to a great start, with everything going on or ahead of schedule," said Matt Moroney, executive director of Metropolitan Builders Association, whose southeastern Wisconsin trade group organized the project. All 10 houses were up and shingled by the end of the first, adrenaline-rushed day.
"After that, if we get rain, it doesn't matter," Moroney said.
Contractors, tradespeople, suppliers and their allies donated their expertise, labor and materials - one all-encompassing donation to the anti-poverty group Milwaukee Habitat for Humanity.
The 10 small but sturdy homes, priced around $65,000, are all sold to credit-qualified buyers who met Habitat's requirements: an income of no more than $40,300 for a family of four and service of 500 hours of volunteer labor to Habitat activities. Habitat rules require a five-year stay or the owner must forgo resale profits.
"This means the world to me," said Quiana Porter, a 25-year-old health care worker who filmed the crew building what on Friday will be her home.
"I have two little ones, and now they will have their own yard. And I'll have my first house," Porter said. Her 500-hour work requirement is finished, but she is still logging Habitat hours. "Whatever I get, I'll donate to someone who's just starting their 500 hours," she said.
The Milwaukee effort is part of a nationwide campaign between the two groups' parent organizations, Habitat for Humanity International and the National Association of Home Builders, to produce about 500 low-cost homes this week.
"This is the biggest building week we've ever had under way," said Steve Tennies, Milwaukee Habitat staff project coordinator. "Now, all the hard work of planning in the last year is paying off. This is a crucial part of our effort in Metcalfe, where there's an obvious need for decent, affordable housing."
Construction crews got an early start - 6:30 a.m. - on a tightly orchestrated schedule condensing the typical 180-day home-building norm into one super work week. But among the early birds greeting a day of glorious sunshine and summer breeze were even earlier birds.
"I pulled up here at a quarter to 5, and there was already a line," said Chellee Siewert, chief operating officer of Metropolitan Builders Association. "People wanted to get going."
Drawn by the hubbub, neighborhood residents peered from porches and windows at the military pace of action. Most kept their distance, but 34th St. resident David Kemp sauntered toward the work sites for a closer look.
"I love it. It's good what they're doing, putting up houses," Kemp said. "That noise don't bother me. I'm an old truck driver myself."
City officials cordoned off N. 32nd to N. 35th streets between W. Clarke St. and W. Meinecke Ave. to allow free rein to nine cranes and several dozen supply trucks. The work force numbered 300-plus at the start.
"Usually, we do one house at a time. Today, we're doing 10, so we'll be moving around a lot," said Linda Heipp, product specialist with Hallmark Building Supplies Inc. in Waukesha. Her company donated the project's house insulation wrap and window flashing.
For Greg Lamberg, supervising a carpentry crew of eight for JFK Builders Inc. of Pewaukee, it qualified as the "extreme building" hyped by TV shows.
"I've got five minutes max" to be interviewed, he said. "We're roughing in (the house frame) now and everyone is working as fast as they can - with no mistakes. This is a challenge, a great challenge."
The project's electricians could commiserate.
"We'll rough in today, and finish tomorrow, and we've got to work fast," said Tim Hanson, director of business development for Local 494 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Eighty-eight union members donated their labor for this project, he reported.
Milwaukee Habitat started revitalization work last year in impoverished Metcalfe Park with five new homes. Typically, the non-profit builds homes using the city's $1-a-lot urban infill land sale program, donor financing and predominantly volunteer crews. This week's homes, however, are professionally built, he noted.
"This is obviously a crucial part of our effort here, since this is a very challenged neighborhood," Tennies said. "With the MBA's help, we expect to have 21 homes here by the end of this year. If we can get more $1 city lots, we'll probably keep going."
Habitat-fashioned homes are modest, in keeping with the organization's "a hand up, not a hand out" motto. Typically 1,100 to 1,200 square feet, they have full basements and front porches, but no garages and only one bathroom each.
That's a big switch for some local builders, who typically work on large, expensive customized residences.
"Better watch me or I'll customize it," joked Andrew Ziebell, vice president of Hickory Hill Homes in Delafield, whose four-person office is pretty much shut down this week for its Habitat commitment.
"It's important to be involved. Our customers understand that," Ziebell said.
His company teamed up with another small, custom builder, Colby Construction Co. Inc. of Delafield, on a single house.
"How do you like that? Competitors join forces," quipped Colby President Pete Feichtmeier. In the months that their trade group has been planning this massive project, Feichtmeier and Ziebell said they've become friends.
Builders were challenged by a project that required a year of team planning and careful timing - in some cases, to the quarter-hour, Moroney said.
"Now our guys can take charge and do what they do best - build homes," Moroney said.
Craig Hampton, a Metcalfe Park resident since 1971, welcomed their presence.
"People in this neighborhood have been disappointed a lot - the unemployment, the low education, the family problems, the killings. This is a good sign, a good thing they're doing, rebuilding here. Maybe society hasn't given up on us after all," Hampton said.
It was fitting that the building blitz started with a prayer, said Karen Lawrence, marketing director for MasterCraft Builders of Kenosha.
"It was important to pray for the safety of our crews - and to get the job done on time," Lawrence said.
- From the June 6, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -