MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Every year, Revitalize Milwaukee is helping hundreds of people stay in their homes. The nonprofit organization offers free, critical home repairs to low income seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.
The need in the city for this type of work is growing. In 2000, Revitalize Milwaukee repaired ten homes. Now, they’re doing 400 a year.
“It's really, really, really hard work,” said CEO Lynnea Katz-Petted. “It’s not for the faint at heart.”
The photos the organization has taken at homes across the city tell the story. There are dangerous electrical systems and plumbing that hasn’t working in months. In some cases, people are trapped inside their homes that aren’t wheelchair accessible, or by rotten wood on their front porch.
“The stuff we're seeing is not stuff that's called, you know, what I would say, deferred maintenance,” Katz-Petted explained. “It's really catastrophic, life-changing.”
Those are the types of calls the team at Revitalize Milwaukee answer every day. Program manager Amy Sorenson has seen many different issues in her year and a half on staff.
“It definitely opens up your perspective,” Sorenson said.
Katz-Petted said they’ve gotten calls about problems that could turn into tragedy.
“There's such frightening situations that are out there, that really, when we get these calls, and we understand the gravity of the situation, it's surprising to me that something hasn't happened and, God willing, something hasn't happened prior to us going out there,” she said.
The organization does all of these repairs at no cost to the homeowner.
“Essentially, we're a nonprofit construction company,” Katz-Petted said. “So, we are the general contractor.”
Since 2000, Revitalize Milwaukee has been helping low-income seniors, veterans and people with disabilities handle critical home repairs for free -- veterans like Dennis, who needed a wheelchair ramp to be able to leave his home.
Revitalize MKE made it happen.
“He was able to rebuild his community connections because he was able to get in and out of his house,” Katz-Petted said.
Those are the type of life-changing moments many of their clients have.
“I just thought I would never be able to do all of the repairs that they're doing now. And for them to come in and do it, means everything to us,” one woman said.
It’s come to mean everything to Katz-Petted, too. When she started working out of her home, it was supposed to be a step back from the grind of the corporate world.
“I had a finance background and a consulting background and I really, truly just wanted to take it down a notch,” she said. “I've learned in the process, though, I'm not able to take it down a notch. Just not my personality.”
So, she’s grown Revitalize MKE every year. Since the pandemic started, the need has skyrocketed. More people are at home, taxing already failing systems.
“We, actually, within the first three months, had 241% increase in the number of services we provided,” she said.
There’s now a waiting list of 200 homeowners. On a budget of $1.7 million dollars last year, they helped 400 Milwaukee homeowners. Katz-Petted said, in turn, that helps the entire city.
“The homeowners we help are homeowners,” she said. “They've been in their homes for 30 years. They're paying their taxes, property taxes. They're keeping the neighborhood stable.”
The agency also employs local contractors, and gets help from volunteers.
“At the end of the day, if we're helping one more homeowner today than we were yesterday, then that's what's important to me,” she said.
Sorenson said Katz-Petted inspires her team everyday.
“I always wish that I could do more, but I'm happy that I feel like my day has purpose because I get to help people,” Sorenson said.
They know each answered phone call is a chance to change someone’s life for the better.
“It's really indescribable. I don't know what drives me so much, but you just know that someone else is going to be OK,” Katz-Petted said.
If you need help, or would like to volunteer for Revitalize MKE, just visit www.freehomerepairs.org for more information.