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This Milwaukee CEO built her own home. Now she helps others keep theirs.



Lynnea Katz-Petted, the CEO of Revitalize Milwaukee, at the non-profit's offices on N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Revitalize Milwaukee works to provide home repairs to low-income and elderly Milwaukee-area homeowners. Katz-Petted has been with the organization for 18 years.

Lynnea Katz-Petted’s living situations have ranged from a home she built to public housing to, for a time, homelessness.

Today, those experiences inform the empathy and passion she brings to her role as CEO of Revitalize Milwaukee.

The nonprofit provides free home repairs to homeowners who are veterans, low-income, elderly or have disabilities. The organization was founded in 2000; Katz-Petted joined five years later.

At the time, Revitalize Milwaukee was providing repairs to seven houses a year. In 2022, it made repairs to more than 300 homes. It also has expanded its services, and now offers modifications to make homes handicapped accessible, basic upkeep such as mowing or shoveling, occupational therapy assessments, lead abatement, energy efficiency upgrades and help with becoming part of the Asthma Safe Homes Program. It even offers repairs and upkeep for middle-income residents at sliding scale fees depending on income.

Revitalize is funded by individual and corporate grants, such as the Zilber Family Foundation, Bader Philanthropies, BMO Harris Bank, The Home Depot, Froedtert Medical College of Wisconsin and Horner Plumbing.

Recently, the nonprofit received a performance-based grant through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of up to nearly $10 million to be distributed over the next three years for its lead abatement program.

CEO’s rocky road to homeownership gives her a special perspective

Katz-Petted grew up in Vancouver, Canada. Her parents lost the home they owned.

“I’ve been homeless. I’ve also lived in really beautiful large houses, so I’ve seen it all,” Katz-Petted said. ”I’ve also seen what happened when people get evicted, and the sheriff shows up with all your stuff on the front porch or the lawn. I completely relate to some of the circumstances.”

Katz-Petted lived with her parents in public housing as a teenager before she moved into her own place at age 16. At the time, she was attending high school and working a full-time overnight job at a drugstore stocking shelves.

“There’s a lot of lessons in there about safety and security, feeling like you belong and are taken care of,” Katz-Petted said. “So, it was always important to me, having somewhere you can go home and rest and the healing and support everyone needs to live their best lives.”

As an adult, she worked as a stockbroker and went into business for herself as a consultant. She bought a condo — then watched the property value drop, and struggled with negative equity until it bounced back.

She said the experience taught her the value of education about the homeownership process after purchase.

“Homeownership is a never-ending opportunity, and for some people, it can be very burdensome,” she said. “It does bother me when people say for the same amount of rent, you can own a home, because there are major mechanics that need to be attended to.”

She took a job at U.S. Bank in Milwaukee in 1999. In 2005, she was able to build a large home for herself.

“For me, I could see both sides of the story, and I also felt really guilty going home at the end of the day to what was a beautiful home that we had just built,” she said. “Part of my job interview for this role was to go and visit some job sites. When I came home from looking and talking to the homeowners we were serving at the time, I walked in the door (of my home) and literally burst into tears and said, ‘Why do I have this and why do they have that? They’re good people.’”

Initially, the job at Revitalize was supposed to be part-time, 20 hours a week for $20,000 a year. But Katz-Petted said she never felt like the work was done, and it has now blossomed into her full-time job.

“I couldn’t stop helping because no one else was responding to situations in the community, and the tragedy homeowners were living in,” she said. “It’s hard for me to see here in Milwaukee that the racism story hasn’t changed at all. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be African American or Hispanic in our community, to be honest with you, and the degree of frustration and lack of resources that are continually not available when they should be.”

That, she said, is why she’s never looked back.

“You can’t fix everything for everybody, but you can make it better,” she said.

Revitalize Milwaukee held on during COVID-19

Like many nonprofits, the pandemic complicated Revitalize’s ability to carry out its mission. Expenses more than doubled during the first four months of COVID-19, but it never shut down.

“People were having a really hard time getting ahold of anyone and we really stepped up for the community and were proud to be there,” Katz-Petted recalled. She said contributions from the Zilber Foundation helped the organization stay financially afloat, despite increased building and material costs.

Under Katz-Petted’s leadership, the programs offered by Revitalize increasingly have focused on environmental hazards — everything from asthma triggers to uneven steps that can cause falls.

Although some family members and caretakers may seek to take people away from unsafe environments, Katz-Petted said the better answer is to make the environment safer.

“When someone is prematurely taken out of their home and taken to a care facility, they tend to lose their hope and die of broken hearts,” she said. “I don’t know what it’s like to live in a perfect world, but I do know having the ability to be independent and not have to rely on anyone for anything else, it provides a great sense of peace and centering.”

Every year, the nonprofit executes a “block build.” In two days, its members remodel roughly 30 homes in a designated area. In 2022, the nonprofit organized 500-600 volunteers and invested nearly $1 million to repair and remodel homes on four blocks in the Lindsay Heights area.

In previous years, the organization has made repairs to neighborhoods in Lincoln Village and Clarke Square. This year, a neighborhood in Muskego Way has been designated the next “block build” site.

Related:Revitalize MKE annual Block Build home repair will focus on Lincoln Village, seeks volunteers

The nonprofit has also been intentional in choosing who is making the repairs and why. Carmen High School and UW-Milwaukee students help as interns and staff, and subcontractors receive living wages. The organization also employs people released from prison who were convicted of nonviolent crimes.

Whether its repairs, contracting or doing chores, Katz-Petted said every Revitalize program is part of the organization’s mission to preserve homeownership and build wealth in underserved communities.

”One of the things I say a lot in the office is: we always have to do the human thing,” she said. “Our whole goal is to help people stay in their homes and make sure they can have a good quality of life.”

To reach Revitalize Milwaukee, call 414-312-7531, visit them at 840 N. Martin Luther King Dr. #600, or visit

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