Yearly Archives: 2017

How Milwaukee’s Northside Housing Initiative Is Keeping the Neighborhood Affordable

 

How do you revitalize a neighborhood that’s faced years of vacancy and disinvestment without displacing the people who call it home? It’s a problem that Milwaukee’s Northside Housing Initiative has been tackling for the last eight years.

1914 home restorationA 1914 home was restored in 2013.

The Northside Housing Initiative (NHI), a project of national developer Gorman & Company, is in the business of restoring tax foreclosed houses. Formerly a booming neighborhood for industrial workers, the north side has seen high rates of vacancy in recent years, following the national housing crisis and the Great Recession. As part of the still-ongoing initiative, the city of Milwaukee acquires foreclosed houses for $1 and donates them to the NHI, which carefully refurbishes them over the course of about six months. Not all of the houses are historic, but roughly 20 percent date from 1910 to 1925, and their styles range from bungalows to Queen Anne to Victorian Revival.

“You do find some that are really in pretty good shape, they still have some pretty good bones to them,” says Marc Ott, lead architect for the Wisconsin market at Gorman, of the historic homes refurbished as part of the initiative. “And then of course you find some that are in the far, complete opposite end, really not habitable at all.”

He says that making sure that the heating and cooling, plumbing, and electrical systems are safe and up to code takes top priority in the rehab projects. Gorman & Company has completed eight phases of the initiative thus far, with a ninth slated for the spring of 2017. They’ve refurbished over 300 structures, including single-family homes and duplexes, to date, taking advantage of low-income tax credits to help finance the work.

Ott says that keeping the historic fabric of the neighborhood intact is also something that the NHI strives for. “We do take time and research the whole block and try to make sure it [the house] fits in and the color scheme is appropriate and etcetera,” he says.

One of the project’s essential components is a workforce development program, in partnership with the Northcott Neighborhood House, a local nonprofit that works with low-income or out-of-work community members. Northcott keeps a list of re-entry candidates who have committed felonies and are trying to get back on their feet post-incarceration, and works with NHI to train interested individuals in the areas of carpentry, electrical, HVAC, or plumbing, as well as providing them with a core curriculum at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Ted Matkom, Wisconsin Market President at Gorman & Company, explains that at the end of their training, people in the program have an opportunity to pursue an apprenticeship in their field of choice.

1910 home before

A duplex built in 1910 gets restored in 2012.

1910 home after

“Our goal is to have them pass the competency test to get into an apprenticeship in those trades,” he says. “Once they pass that, with our credit from the training program, they can get an apprenticeship job with a local union.”

The north side of Milwaukee has seen a shift in recent years due to the new Century City project, a formerly vacant A.O. Smith car parts factory that the city is in the process of transforming into an office park, at an estimated cost of around $40 million. While the new development should be economically beneficial for the area in theory, the city doubled down on its commitment to keeping longtime residents from being pushed out of the neighborhood by rising housing costs by partnering with the Northside Housing Initiative to rehab homes in direct proximity to Century City. It’s part of a larger plan to keep the North Side affordable for those whose families, in some cases, have called it home for generations.

“You can really see that this was probably the quintessential working neighborhood back in the ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s, with all the industry that was happening in Milwaukee,” Ott says. “Unfortunately, through the years and economics and whatnot, they’ve just transitioned, and people weren’t able to keep them up.”

For residents like Willie Bounds, who has called Milwaukee home his whole life, the house he’s renting through the Northside Housing Initiative provides more than enough room for him and his daughter. “I’ve never had a house with a basement before,” he says, laughing. “I really love the extra space.” He pays $950 a month for a four-bedroom, four-bathroom house.

“It really gives a lot of pride to the neighborhood,” Ott says of the project’s benefits. “It’s one thing to give someone housing. If you can give someone good quality housing that they’re proud to bring people back to—it’s been very fulfilling to see, as we work through these nine phases, how we evolve, how the community’s kind of taken hold of it, been proud of it.”

Creative reuse turns half of former Catholic seminary in Madison into higher-end apartments

Written by Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal

holy name seminary

Several years ago, leaders of the Madison Catholic Diocese realized they had a big challenge on their hands with the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, a former seminary and home to the diocesan headquarters.

The majestic but aging building on the city’s Far West Side had become costly to maintain, with only about one-third of it being used on a regular basis.

The diocese hired a developer, and today, about half of the building has been converted to private-market apartments, adding millions of dollars to the city’s tax base. The $21 million project celebrated its grand opening in August, and all 53 apartments are now occupied, ahead of expectations.

“There’s more life to the building now — more people, more activity,” said Monsignor James Bartylla, the diocese’s second-ranking official, adding that the project keeps the “legacy property” in the diocese while preserving much of its spiritual and cultural identity.

The building at 702 S. High Point Road, a few blocks south of the Beltline, opened in 1964 as Holy Name Seminary, a high school for boys interested in possibly becoming priests. The seminary closed in 1995.

The building was rechristened in 1997 as the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, honoring the founding bishop of the diocese. Its new name, Holy Name Heights, brings the site back full circle.

For apartment dwellers, it offers one of the more unusual residential settings in the city.

The diocesan headquarters remain, imbuing the building with a sense of the sacred. Tenants have 24-hour access to the building’s centerpiece, an on-site chapel with soaring stained glass windows and a 360-piece mosaic that rises three stories behind the altar. Mass is celebrated daily during the week.

For a more secular experience, there’s a full-size gym, newly restored to its retro glory. The 72-acre site offers 2.5 miles of walking paths, a running track, a baseball diamond and fields for football and soccer.

Other amenities include two interior courtyards with arched walkways, a theater room with a 100-inch screen, and a lounge with a balcony offering panoramic views of the city and state Capitol.

“It just seems so special here,” said tenant Christina Busse, 33, a stay-at-home mom who lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her husband, Phillip, 35, and their 21-month-old son, Cephas.

Broad appeal

While anyone can live at the site, diocesan officials thought the apartments might attract mostly empty nesters and Catholics. The appeal has been broader.

Busse, who is Lutheran, said she enjoys praying in the chapel and has found her neighbors to be a friendly bunch that ranges in age from young professionals to retirees. Many seem eager to make personal connections, she said.

“People seem to want relationships here,” she said.

The site appealed to the couple for its serenity, its religious aspects, and its amenities, especially the acres of outdoor space their son can explore as he grows. Their apartment is about a 10-minute drive from Epic Systems Corp., where Phillip Busse, 34, works in technical support services. Christina Busse estimated that nearly a dozen other tenants also work at the electronic medical records giant.

Among the couple’s neighbors are Paul and Kate Stauffacher, the kind of tenants diocesan officials knew would be especially drawn to the property. Retirees in their 70s, they are devout Catholics whose two sons graduated from the former seminary.

The connection for Paul Stauffacher goes even deeper. He taught and coached at the seminary early on, then went on to serve as its principal from 1978-87. His apartment is the seminary’s former weight and equipment room where he spent so much time as a coach.

“This just struck us when we saw it,” Stauffacher said. “There is a certain element of nostalgia, but it goes beyond that. We’re daily Mass attendees, so the chapel is very convenient. We love to get out and exercise on the grounds, and our grandchildren love the gym.”

For some, there’s the added appeal of occasionally bumping into Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, who recently moved into one of the new apartments. He had been living for more than a decade in the rectory at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, three blocks off the Capitol Square.

‘Uncommon’ project

The diocese, which continues to own the property, hired Gorman & Co. to redevelop the site. The company, based just south of Madison, has stayed on as the on-site manager for the apartments.

Gorman & Co. specializes in adaptive reuses of landmark buildings and has had a long association with the diocese. It successfully nominated the former seminary as a historic landmark. The building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The designation allowed the company to access $5.8 million in historic tax credits — a critical piece of the financing — and also protects the building’s architectural legacy, said CEO Gary Gorman, a lifelong Catholic who grew up in the Madison area and has served as board president of Catholic Charities Madison. The project was “uncommon” and close to his heart, Gorman said.

“It did something really positive for a diocese that I’ve been a member of for 60 years,” he said. “I’m proud of both the physical and financial results, and in particular the fact that a number of people now get to call this beautiful building their home.”

The city has determined that 46.63 percent of the building is now taxable, with the rest remaining tax-exempt due to its religious use, said Scott West, a city commercial property appraiser. The assessed value of the taxable portion is currently set at $3.43 million by the city, but that number reflects only partial completion of the project, West said. The full assessment, out this April, likely will be around $5.1 million, he said.

The diocese’s 2016 tax bill for the site is $77,532. That figure is based on only the partial assessment.

The project’s total costs of $21 million are so much higher than the city assessed value because the total costs reflect work done on the entire site, not just the part turned into apartments, said Ted Matkom, president of the Wisconsin market for Gorman & Co. The project also addressed major maintenance issues on the aging building such as roofing and plumbing, he said.

One-bedroom apartments rent for $955 to $1,285 per month, while two-bedroom units go for $1,369 to $1,970. That’s probably a little less than top-of-the-line luxury units in Madison, but in the middle to upper range, said Rick Mason, property manager.

Bartylla said the project could help other dioceses think creatively about unused or vacant properties.

“I think we’ve shown that you don’t have to sell church property when it’s underutilized,” he said. “There might be an opportunity to continue ownership while finding something that works for both the diocese and the community.”

“It did something really positive for a diocese that I’ve been a member of for 60 years. I’m proud of both the physical and financial results, and in particular the fact that a number of people now get to call this beautiful building their home.” Gary Gorman, CEO of Gorman & Co., which redeveloped the former Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center