Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Ramon Guadarrama helps over 100 families become first-time homeowners

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Home sales may be down overall during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Acts Housing program in Milwaukee is busier than ever. Acts helps first-time homeowners find a home, finance it, and make repairs.

Ramon Guadarrama is a rehabilitation counselor with the program.

“Here is the furnace, which is the heart of the house,” he said, showing off a newly installed furnace.

Guadarrama’s pride in the repairs and upgrades at the home on North 44th Street are evident.

“Over there is a new electrical panel,” he said, pointing to the other side of the basement.

And this isn’t even his home. Claudia Martinez and her family started this rehab project back in January.

“They walk in and they start saying, oh I would like to paint this one this color. I want my kitchen here, my table over there,” Guadarrama said of new homeowners.

He said he can tell when clients can see the potential in a property. He’s been working as a counselor for six years, but he started in 2014 as a client.

“In the beginning, it was really hard to think that I will have a house, having so many different barriers,” he said of his journey. “And it did work for me, and then in my mind, was, I can replicate this with other families.”

Since then, he’s worked with more than 100 families, helping them navigate the home buying process from beginning to end.

“They're taking foreclosed properties that are maybe a blight on the neighborhoods and turning them into beautiful new homes for the families. So it's definitely a win-win,” said program manager, Ben Sheehan.

Sheehan said it’s important that Guadarrama can relate to clients.

“It really helps that he's been through that process on both sides of the table because when you buy your first home, it's not only a huge financial undertaking, but a huge mental and physical undertaking,” Sheehan said.

Guadarrama gave CBS 58 a complete tour of Martinez’s new home, from the top floor, all the way down to the basement. Acts shared photos and video of what the property looked like before. It had extensive water damage and debris inside. The family had to haul out a lot of trash, and that’s when the real work began.

“In this case, this house needed a roof. We start with the roof. Then the mechanicals, and then the people have to do the cosmetics,” Guadarrama explained.

They’ve replaced windows, repaired flashing, drywall and paint. Guadarrama helps families come up with a budget and they have a six-month deadline to complete the project.

“Then you realize, this family is really eager to have a property and that house, they like it. And that's the moment I realize that family is going to really make the effort,” he said.

It seems like Guadarrama’s work might slow down during the pandemic, but Sheehan said Acts is busier now than they’ve ever been. He said clients have more time to work on their repairs and many families are interested in applying.

“Actually, a lot of our families now have more time than they did a few months ago, so they're doing more work quicker than they would have been able to otherwise,” Sheehan said.  “So a lot of our rehabs are moving on a lot quicker than they had been.”

The services are free, and Acts is currently helping with 35 projects across the city. In the 25 years it’s been operating, Acts has helped place 2,600 families in homes.

“It takes families who've been renting and moving all over the city and they establish roots in their community and in their neighborhood,” Sheehan said.

Guadarrama said finding a home for the kids always gets him.

“They just, they're really jumping and screaming,” he said with a smile. “The kids, they want to move right away, and that's another push for the parents.”

At Martinez’s home, flowers sit outside, ready to be planted. It’s another success story Guadarrama helped make happen.

“We try to give people the necessary education to purchase their property,” he said.

For more information, CLICK HERE. If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie an email at nshepherd@cbs58.com.

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