Thursday, October 6, 2011

Art Gonzales & SEWHC of Racine County – 41 Years of Self-Help Housing

In November 2011, Art Gonzales and Southeastern Wisconsin Housing Corporation (SEWHC) of Racine County, will discontinue their self-help housing program. This decision was not an easy one for the staff and Board of SEWHC, but the economy in their area made the program no longer feasible. They are continuing to look for other alternatives that might enable them to provide affordable housing to those in need.

Art helped organize SEWHC in 1970, and has provided affordable housing for 41 years!! His staff, Sue Nielsen, Deputy Director and Lanny Esch, Construction Manager, have also provided outstanding technical assistance to self-help homeowners for 25-30 of those years. Beyond the knowledge and experience Art, Sue and Lanny have shared, we will miss the stellar customer service they continuously provided.

According to Joan and Ann Schenk, sisters that went through SEWHC’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Program, “We can’t say enough about the staff of SEWHC. There wasn’t anything they wouldn’t do for us. They are available when you need them and they know their stuff. The staff can anticipate problems before they happen and they have seen it all before.” Joan Shenk also said, “They made sure we were prepared for what was to come, mentally and emotionally too, not just physically." But still the program was difficult, “We started questioning if we could physically do it. The first weekend I was in tears. I really thought I was in over my head. SEWHC and the staff really brought me through. They have confidence in you when you don’t have it in yourself.”

Another program participant Allison Yorgey also has nothing but positive things to say about Art and the SEWHC staff. “This program was a godsend, but we kept thinking ‘where’s the catch’, because we truly thought that we would be renting forever,” she said. “The great thing about this program is that it is not a hand out. You do have to work hard to get the improvements to your new home done and SEWHC is willing to do what they can to help.”

Art laid the foundation for a life-long commitment to serving people in need at a very young age. His family moved from San Antonio to Wisconsin in 1947 when Art was 10, and he spent his summers working alongside family members and friends in the farm fields of Racine County.  

Art grew up on Racine’s south side and, like many inner city kids, dropped out of high school. At age 17, he made what he says proved to be a fateful decision – he joined the Marine Corp. While serving, Art earned his high school GED. He also learned the importance of discipline, pride and leadership. Upon honorable discharge at the age of 20, he spent time volunteering with teenagers from his old neighborhood, and accepted a job with JI Case Company of Racine. In 1967 Art helped found the Racine Spanish Center. One thing led to another and he began helping migrant workers and their families find housing in the area.    

In 1970, that avenue led him to help organize SEWHC and he also became its Executive Director. As its leader, he has orchestrated the construction of over 1,500 units of affordable self-help housing; developed four subdivisions; 50 affordable building sites; and most recently implemented a new version of self-help housing utilizing purchase/repair. SEWHC also built, and currently owns, a 16 unit elderly project in Darien, WI. In total, the organization has assisted more than an astounding 70% minority households.

SEWHC has also had an impact on the national housing scene, with Art serving on numerous boards and commissions including: the Director of United Migrant Opportunities Services; the Governor’s Hispanic Advisory Council; the US Commission on Civil Rights; and past president of the National Rural Housing Coalition, to name a few.
Art occupies a place in his communities for which there have been no predecessors of Hispanic origin. As a “silent hero”, he has spent the majority of his life serving others with little or no recognition.

We at NCALL salute Art Gonzales, Sue Nielsen, Lanny Esch and the SEWHC Board of Directors for their dedication to creating affordable housing, and self-esteem within the hearts and minds of thousands of southeastern Wisconsin residents. 

(If you would like to leave a message for Art and the staff of SEWHC, please visit the appropriate section of www.selfhelphousing

"Southeastern Wisconsin Housing Corporation (SEWHC), under Arturo Gonzales's leadership, has been a stalwart housing provider for low-income families in Wisconsin for so long that it seems inconceivable that it's beginning to wind down its operation.  SEWHC was one of HAC's first borrowers in 1972 when it borrowed $103,500 to develop sites for 37 self-help homes.  There are no words to truly describe the contributions SEWHC has made to the betterment of so many nor to articulate the gratitude we all owe this tremendous organization.  Its mark will be felt for many years to come."      Moises Loza, Executive   Director, Housing            Assistance Council

“The name Art Gonzales is synonymous with self-help housing.  Dedicated to creating homeownership opportunity for low income families, Art has been a leader, not only in his own state of Wisconsin but on a national level.  His spirit and hard work helped to blaze a path for others around the country, including me.  Always thoughtful, warm and genuinely interested in others, Art was always one of the first  faces I looked for at housing conferences.”  Peter Carey, Executive Director, Self-Help Housing Enterprises

“SEWHC and Art Gonzales did so much for their community in helping address the need for affordable housing.  They will be missed in their local community.  SEWHC is one of the oldest Mutual Self-Help Housing organizations that has helped define this program; 41 years.  When we talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, it is to people like Art and organizations such as SEWHC to which we refer. Their contribution will never be forgotten and will be missed going forward.  Thank you Art for your leadership and to SEWHC for its service.”  Russell Huxtable, President, National Rural Self-Help Housing Association

"Art, it has been an honor and pleasure knowing and working with you and the staff of SEWHC. The organization and its programs really were a blessing to the communities they served. Thanks for all of your hard work and efforts to make your corner of the world a better place! We wish you all the best! " NCALL’s Self-Help Team

“Art and his staff at Southeast Wisconsin have been self-help housing pioneers within the Northeast Region and one of the highest and most consistent producers over the years.  So many families have had their lives changed and housing journey brightened because of their steadfast work. We at NCALL have appreciated the opportunity to work closely together and we send our best wishes to Art and staff members.” Joe Myer, Executive Director, NCALL

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