Father Dennis Lewis
Immediately upon his arrival at St. Michael's, Father Dennis Lewis was confronted with a growing population of Hmong and Laotian immigrants that were in poor rental situations. Father Dennis reached out to Mayor John Norquist for help with the housing situation in the St. Michael's neighborhood. Mayor Norquist put Father Dennis in touch with John Worm with the Department of City Development. Together John Worm and Father Lewis teamed up to found Allied Churches Teaching Self-empowerment or "ACTS" in 1992. Their mission was to get more homeowners living on the blocks like they originally were and to have the ability to walk to church.
Father Dennis described the neighborhood as "rough" when he first made the move to St. Michael's. Before ACTS Housing, residents cared less about the neighborhood. That slowly started to change as more and more homeowners were planted in the neighborhood. The streets have gotten a lot quieter, as ACTS Housing and invested homeowners were able to help the City and Police Department by identifying problem and drug houses.
Looking back, Father Dennis never would have believed that ACTS Housing would have grown to what it is today. With millions of dollars in loans and committed volunteers, the program has empowered thousands of lives. While other housing non-profit organizations were owning the properties and renting them out to people in the community, ACTS Housing was putting the people in control by offering home ownership.
Father Dennis says ACTS Housing has been fortunate to have a great board and great leaders throughout the years. ACTS Housing continues to push forward and have a large community presence. He thinks that moving into the convent building a few years ago has helped ACTS Housing have more of a presence in the community. ACTS Housing is also in the process of purchasing the Convent which will keep them firmly rooted in the community for years to come.
He is excited for the future of ACTS Housing and believes that it has the potential to expand the NW side of Milwaukee, West Allis, Racine, or even cities like Detroit. Father Dennis always plans to be involved with ACTS Housing, even after retirement.
Father Dennis Lewis, Interviewed by Joe Gaudreau, Esme Barniskis, Murray Smith, June 20