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Veteran and lifelong renter becomes homeowner


Leslie Heisner grew up as a renter. Her father was a single parent, and he did a good job making their rented house feel like their permanent home. But it wasn’t – not really. Due to an issue with the landlord, she and her father were forced to move when she was in high school – a time when Heisner craved stability. That’s why buying her own home has always been a primary goal for the U.S. Air Force veteran, now a tax accountant, from Milwaukee, WI.
Leslie Heisner
In September, that goal became a reality, thanks to Select Milwaukee, NeighborWorks America and the Wells Fargo Foundation. Under Neighborhood LIFT, the foundation provides grants of up to $15,000 for down-payment assistance, and  NeighborWorks America channels the funds to members of its network or other eligible nonprofits - in this case, Select Milwaukee.

At a two-day event in each participating city, potential homebuyers learn if they qualify for the down-payment assistance program, tour available properties and enroll in required pre-purchase workshops offered by the local nonprofits. To date, more than 8,000 residents from 28 cities who would have had difficulty buying a home without the assistance have fulfilled their dreams through the program.

Heisner’s journey from renter to homeowner began when she enrolled in the Air Force right out of high school, serving in intelligence in San Antonio, TX, from 1996-2000.

“There was no other way for me to afford to go to college,” recalls Heisner. But she found that in addition to financial assistance with school, military service also taught her some important life skills – including resiliency and critical judgment.  When she left the armed forces, Heisner studied first architecture, then kinesiology only to discover they were not the right choices for her. Fortunately, Heisner’s military training helped her forge a new direction. “The military taught me to have the inner strength to re-think and find a new solution when I hit a wall,” she explains. Accounting turned out to be the right fit, and today she is working toward a second master’s degree in business administration – also with help from a state veterans program.
Leslie Heisner's new home
Leslie moved into her new "starter" home two months ago.
Now, Heisner has achieved another important goal – buying her own home.

“Renting is fine, but I wanted to be able to do things like put in a garden, paint the rooms in my colors and even knock down a wall without asking someone’s permission,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s my own choice. And I see it as protecting my investment.”

Without Neighborhood LIFT, she’d either have delayed the decision or “have felt underwater,” says Heisner. She is not alone. About a third of surveyed LIFT participants said that without the program, they would have had to wait more than three years to buy a home, and another third said they would have had to delay the decision by one to two years. Six percent said they would not have been able to buy a home at all.

In addition, Heisner says the pre-purchase workshop prepared her for what to expect and where to go when she has questions.

“LIFT helped me find just the right start-up house. My monthly payments are really close to my rent, so it feels comfortable and affordable. It’s one of the best decisions I made in my life!”

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