Local Initiative Support
Corporation – LISC

As LISC Milwaukee’s Director of Sustainable Communities, Christopher Boston understands that improving the quality of life in Milwaukee’s urban neighborhoods requires patience. “You have to be willing to roll-up your selves for the long haul—it takes a significant amount of time, energy, and investment to be able to see the neighborhood turn in the way that it needs to turn,” Boston explained. Joining the organization in 2009, Boston soon encountered one of the greater challenges to LISC’s mission. “The larger challenge across the board was the response needed to deal with the foreclosure crisis,” said Boston. By listening to the needs of community residents first, LISC worked with neighborhoods through the crisis and its residual effects.

Revitalizing Neighborhoods

LISC is a national organization with a local focus. Established in 1995, LISC Milwaukee sets out to revitalize distressed urban neighborhoods by providing community organizations with loans, grants and equity investments, technical assistance, and policy support.[1] Since 1995, the non-profit has invested $30 million in grants and loans into Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods, and another $70 million in equity investments through their subsidiary, the National Equity Fund.  In 2012 alone, LISC investments contributed to 193 rehabbed or newly constructed housing units for families.

LISC takes a targeted approach to revitalizing neighborhoods. Partnering with community organizations in five neighborhoods, LISC Milwaukee focuses on collaborating with community leaders. Boston elaborated, “We not only invest a lot of our energy in projects, but also in people, because we know that there are quality leaders in these neighborhoods who have been working in these areas for years.”  Specifically, the organization has partnerships in the neighborhoods of Clark Square, Harambee, Layton Boulevard West, Lindsay Heights, and Washington Park. In spring 2013, Argosy supported these partnerships with a grant for general operating support and a program-related investment (PRI). Argosy’s PRI supports projects within LISC’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. The initiative is rooted in five strategies—(1) expanding real estate investment, (2) building family income, (3) stimulating economic activity, (4) improving access to quality education, and (5) developing healthy and safe environments.[2]

Investing for Community Development

Like a grant, a PRI supports charitable purposes and activities. However, unlike a grant, a foundation supplying a PRI expects a return of their capital with low interest, within a certain time frame. For LISC, Argosy’s PRI will bolster one of their loan funds, the Wisconsin Preservation Fund.

One of the primary uses of this fund is for pre-development funding that covers projects’ early activities, including architectural design work, engineering studies, environmental testing, surveys, and application fees for sources of financing. Many of LISC’s partners are hard pressed to pay for these activities out of pocket. Jack West, LISC Milwaukee’s Financial Services Director, elaborated on this lending function. “We typically do predevelopment funding on a recoverable grant basis. This is in order to get the facts and figures down, and to give a better vision to others [i.e. third-party lenders like commercial banks] who may be interested in investing in the project,” West explained. Two LISC-supported projects include the Turnkey Renovation Program, and the Wellness Commons.

Specifically, LISC provided start-up funding to Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, Inc. in 2008, for the Turnkey Renovation Program. The program focused on acquisition and rehab of properties in their neighborhood.  Once they had a successful model, one of the local commercial banks stepped up to provide a line that now provides funding for ongoing property acquisition and rehab. The project continues to focus on energy-efficiency, and most recently involved renovating 24 foreclosed properties with solar panels, solar thermal heating systems, triple-paned windows, double insulation, and ceiling fans. And quality of life was no doubt improved. While typical resale homes boast energy index scores of 130, a recently renovated home in the project received an index score of 13 based on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS).[3]

Additionally, LISC provided the funding needed for the early purchase of a key building to another partner, Walnut Way Conservation Corp., leading to the development of the Innovations and Wellness Commons in the Lindsay Heights Neighborhood. The project aims to revitalize the area stretching from 16th street to 18th street on North Avenue.[4]  In its architectural design, Walnut Way is emphasizing ecologically sensible and energy efficient approaches to the Commons. It is expected that the Commons will increase employment opportunities for local residents, as well as offer “improved access to health services and engagement in wellness practices.”[5]

Facing Current Challenges

Going forward, LISC will continue to work in communities that face several challenges—high home vacancy and jobless rates among them. And one of the most pressing is community safety, which LISC is determined to address. “We’ve entered into a partnership with the Milwaukee Police Department because they can help create neighborhoods capable of sustaining civic life, by being more proactive and less reactive,” Boston explains.  The MPD-LISC partnership, named the Community Safety Initiative, began in April 2013.

One proactive step in this partnership is a program called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), which involves law enforcement and community leaders exploring changes to the physical or “built” environment in order to make a neighborhood safer. For example, by constructing store fronts with plenty of windows, a neighborhood can prevent theft and robberies, as community members will be able to more readily observe suspicious behavior or crimes in-progress.

In light of these challenges, LISC maintains that improving quality of life is rooted in commitment and collaboration.  “Community development is not a short-term fix, it is a long-term proposition, and in order to create authentic change, you need to work with the indigenous set of assets and people who are in the communities,” Boston asserts. The Argosy Foundation believes LISC Milwaukee’s work aligns with our mission to solve systematic problems. As LISC approaches its 20th anniversary in Milwaukee, we wish them continued success in improving quality of life in communities across the city.


For more information on LISC, please visit: http://www.lisc.org/milwaukee/

[1] “Overview.” LISC Milwaukee, accessed May 27, 2014. http://www.lisc.org/milwaukee/about_us/overview.php

[2]"Lending", LISC. Accessed May 28, 2014. http://www.lisc.org/section/ourwork/investment

[3] Maria Corpus. “Renovation of foreclosed duplex results in ‘net energy bill of zero.’”  Neighborhood News Service: Milwaukee. January 16, 2014, accessed May, 28, 2014. http://www.milwaukeenns.org/2014/01/16/renovation-of-foreclosed-duplex-results-in-net-energy-bill-of-zero/

[4] “Lindsay Heights Innovation and Wellness Commons.” Mayer Helminiak Architects, LLC. Accessed May 28, 2014. http://mayer-helminiak.com/Lindsay-Heights-Health-and-Wellness-Commons.htm

[5] “Abundance from the Ground Up.” Walnut Way 2013 Newsletter. Accessed May 28, 2014. http://www.walnutway.org/sites/files/Walnut%20Way%20Annual%20Report%202013_0.pdf




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