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Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012

Milwaukee Finds 'Common Ground' for Foreclosures

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In this era of record bonuses for Wall Street and “get out of jail free” cards for the wealthy and well connected, at least one grassroots, nonpartisan organization successfully sought corporate accountability. Common Ground achieved that with its “Faces of Foreclosure” campaign, launched in January 2010 to gain the ear of national banks it identified as catalysts of the “foreclosure crisis in southeastern Wisconsin.” Because these banks were heavily invested in subprime mortgages, Common Ground concluded that they should play an active role in rehabilitating the neighborhoods they helped destroy. Common Ground received a total of $33.8 million from the banks, which will be used to fund “Milwaukee Rising,” an initiative to “rehabilitate homes in the Sherman Park neighborhood over a four-year period,” explains lead organizer Keisha Krumm.

What is the extent of Common Ground's community involvement?


We have 44 member organizations, which are a combination of congregations, small businesses, nonprofits and labor unions. We also have a group for people who are not affiliated with an established organization. And we have a base of about 100 volunteer leaders that are involved in our issue campaigns and help to guide the overall vision of the organization.

How is “Milwaukee Rising” revitalization developing?


We have four homes for sale and one that is being rehabbed.

What is the status of the Wisconsin Health Care Cooperative?

We have applied for a $62 million loan that would capitalize a new nonprofit health-care insurance cooperative that would serve small businesses, nonprofits and individuals who need affordable insurance.  It will also compete in the marketplace, outside of the exchanges, so that it is not completely dependent upon the Affordable Care Act. If we get [the loan], we will start offering insurance in January 2014.

Common Ground launched the “It's About Our Children” education initiative in February 2011. What was that in response to?


We had heard a rumor that Gov. Walker was considering no longer accepting [federal] Title 1 funding. Milwaukee Public Schools is a Title 1 district, so that was a huge issue in our community.  We organized an assembly in February and launched a listening campaign.  Since then we have held about 70 research meetings with key people in public charter and choice schools to better understand the dynamics.

How does Common Ground plan to move forward with the “It's About Our Children” initiative?


We have an education team of about 30 to 40 volunteers that meets each month. We have five subgroups that are looking into some specific areas in education. In the next few months we will be focused on figuring out a concrete and specific issue that we can take on and go public with.
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