Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: $10 million complex bolsters Milwaukee's supportive housing push
Photo by Mike De Sisti
by Robert Gebelhoff
May 27, 2014
When it comes to children living in poverty, Milwaukee ranks as one of the worst large cities in America, with 43% of its kids living under the poverty level.
That's according to the Kids Count Data Center, and it's the reason Milwaukee nonprofit organizations and city leaders are pushing for more affordable, supportive housing units to be made available to families that are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Mayor Tom Barrett joined city leaders Tuesday at the grand opening of the latest addition to Milwaukee's supportive housing community — the recently finished Maskani Place in the Harambee neighborhood.
"This is a matter of respect," Barrett said at the event. "This city has far too many children living in poverty."
The $10 million apartment complex, 320 E. Center St., is developed by Heartland Housing, a division of the Midwest anti-poverty nonprofit Heartland Alliance, in partnership with Community Advocates. Community Advocates will be providing the building's residents with supportive services such as employment training, help finding childcare and financial guidance.
"The building looks great," said Michael Goldberg, executive director of Heartland Alliance. "It breaks down stigmas about how supportive housing is supposed to look."
The modern-looking, 37-unit building uses only energy-efficient appliances and includes a computer lab, a multipurpose community room, outdoor play areas and space for community gardening.
It took about a year for the project to be constructed, starting February 2013, and it was financed through a mix of public and private means. In addition to tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, the project was supported by the City of Milwaukee and its Housing Authority, BMO Harris Bank, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago and others.
Goldberg said the building will be dedicated to supportive housing, meaning all its units will be subsidized and that no resident will be paying more than 30% of his or her income for rent. But for residents coming from shelters and poor quality housing, Maskani offers more than just affordable living.
"I'm coming from a slumlord building," said Dorene Westerfield, who moved into her apartment with her 6-year-old granddaughter. "I froze every winter, so this building is really nice."
"It's safe," said Jennifer Riggins, a resident that moved into Maskani with her four children in April.
The project is just one part of a much wider city effort to expand permanent supportive housing services to those at risk of homelessness.
In 2010, the Milwaukee Continuum of Care, a coalition of nonprofits and governmental organizations, put together a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the city. Supportive housing was one of four pillars to that plan, with an original goal to expand the number of units by 1,260.
In January 2013, the coalition reported a total of 1,257 beds were dedicated to permanent supportive housing in Milwaukee — up from 864 in 2010. Of the beds in 2013, 1,020 served households with children.
Still, the increase only addresses a small portion of the problem. In 2012, Kids Count estimated 68,000 kids were living under the poverty level in Milwaukee. Close to 80,000 children — about 70% — lived in households that spent 30% of its income on housing.
Maskani is Heartland Housing's third supportive housing project since coming to Milwaukee in 2006 after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's "Abandoning Our Mentally Ill" investigation revealed a lack of safe, clean and affordable housing for people with mental illness. Heartland's other Milwaukee projects are the 24-unitPrairie Apartments, 1218 W Highland Ave., and the 38-unit Capuchin Apartments, 2502 W. Tamarack St. The Prairie Apartments were opened in 2009, in partnership with Guest House of Milwaukee, and the Capuchin Apartments in 2011 with the St. Ben's Community Meal.
Goldberg said the response from the Harambee neighborhood so far has been encouraging, with some businesses in the area indicating interest in getting involved to teach residents new skills.
Tommie White, who owns A&C Sport and Bait Shop next door to Maskani, said he is interested in teaching residents fishing etiquette and safety during the summer. White already organizes clinics to teach inner-city kids.
"If (Maskani) wants to bring kids on a bus to a park, we'll train them," White said.
White, like many of his neighbors, expressed some concern about the low-income housing addition in the neighborhood.
"We were having enough problems as it is when it comes to pandering," White said. "But so long as there's respect, I think we can work it out and be good neighbors."
View this article on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website here.