City Would Help Knit Housing Out of Factory

A $600,000 contribution from the city would be used to transform a long-vacant former knitting factory on Milwaukee’s south side into a $12 million, 100-unit apartment complex.

The Community Development Committee recommended to the Common Council that developers Gorman & Company Inc. receive $600,000 from the federal Home Investment Partnership Program to help renovate buildings at W. 21st and S. Pierce streets into 100 rental units and 132 parking spaces.

The site is next to the Mitchell Park Domes. The project would be funded through Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) tax-exempt bonds and through federal tax credits for low-income and historic developments.

Tom Capp, executive vice president of Gorman, said that all the loft-style apartments will be affordable housing. Tenants would have to earn less than 60% of the Milwaukee County median income to live in the building.

That would mean an income of $28,200 or less for one person. To qualify a family of two could make up to $32,280; a family of three, up to $36,300; and, a family of four could earn up to $40,320 a year.

There would be a mix of units, including one, two and three bedrooms, and rents would be in the $675- to $900-a-month range, Capp said.

Once approved by the city, the project is expected to get under way late this year or early next year.

Gorman & Company has developed other projects, including the Fifth Ward Lofts at 133 W. Oregon St. and the Kunzelmann-Esser Lofts at 710 W. Mitchell St. aimed at artists who want to work at home.

Maria Prioletta, of the Department of City Development, said the project would help the south side area and would complement other efforts to improve housing in the neighborhood.

Ald. Michael Murphy said there’s a huge demand for housing in the Historic Third Ward, which is not far to the east of the knitting factory, but that many potential tenants find existing options there too pricey.

The knitting factory project would attract many young people who might not otherwise come to the neighborhood, he said. “It’s an exciting project, and there’s a real need for this.”

But Ald. Paul Henningsen said: “This is the last 100% low income building I’ll vote for.”

He said because it is so close to Mitchell Park, he would have preferred to see 50% of the units not tied to income levels. “The Domes are an amenity that could have attracted market rates, too,” he said.

But Prioletta said the rents would be above existing rents in the neighborhood. And Murphy said the income level of 60% of the median income is “way higher” than the income for that neighborhood as reported in 2000 census data.

“This will attract young people in their 20s and 30s who may be from the suburbs and want to live in the city, not persons in poverty,” he added. “It will help strengthen the neighborhood.”

“A great city needs to provide good housing for all its citizens,” said Ald. Don Richards, chairman of the community development committee. “We need not apologize for making good housing available to persons with low incomes.”