Grandparents who are raising their grandchildren – often because the parents are in prison, have drug addictions or other problems – would have apartments designed especially for their needs through a development proposed for Milwaukee’s north side.
The $10 million project, Villard Square, would create 47 apartments in the 3400 block of W. Villard Ave. It would be among a small but growing group of U.S. apartment developments that combine senior housing with kid-friendly features. The idea is to put children from broken homes into a stable environment, said Chris Laurent, of the development firm Gorman & Co.
Oregon, Wis.-based Gorman, which has built several apartment complexes in the Milwaukee area, and Northwest Side Community Development Corp., a neighborhood nonprofit group, would develop Villard Square.
It would be the first Milwaukee apartment building specifically marketed to grandparents who are the main caretakers for their grandchildren, said Laurent, Gorman’s Wisconsin market president. Similar apartments have been built in Chicago, Boston, New York and other cities.
There’s a strong demand for such housing in Milwaukee, Laurent said. According to the 2000 census, there were 7,052 grandparents in Milwaukee who were responsible for their grandchildren.
Gorman’s development would combine housing with services, such as parental counseling, to help grandparents, Laurent said.
The apartments also might be combined with a new neighborhood library, Laurent said. The library would be in 10,000 square feet on the four-story building’s ground floor and would replace the Villard Avenue Library at 3310 W. Villard Ave.
The 2009 city budget includes $1 million to help pay for the library portion of the project, which could serve as a model for future neighborhood libraries, Mayor Tom Barrett said.
The grandparent housing proposal would encourage stronger support systems for families, Barrett said.
That’s been the case at GrandParent Family Apartments, a $13 million development for grandparents and grandchildren that opened in 2005 in New York City.
There are 94 grandchildren living in the building’s 50 apartments in the Bronx, said David Taylor, executive director of Presbyterian Senior Services, the project co-developer. Their ages range from toddlers to 20-year-old college students, while their grandparents are from their early 60s to their 80s, he said.
“And they’re doing well because they’re in a very nice, structured environment,” Taylor said. “It’s safe and it’s affordable.”
The building has features for both senior citizens and children, such as wide hallways with hand rails, emergency pull cords in bedrooms, a playroom and on-site tutoring, Taylor said. It also has social workers on site to help older family members with child rearing.
The on-site services are important, Taylor said. A lot of the children have had difficult lives. Some have been abandoned by their parents – mainly because of drug abuse, he said. And the grandparents sometimes have trouble communicating with them.
The services have been a big help, said Annie Barnes, 66, who lives in the apartment building with two teenage grandchildren. The family moved there nearly four years ago from a less-secure and cramped apartment.
Working on financing
Villard Square’s developers have been talking to the YMCA about providing services to the apartment residents, Laurent said.
Gorman and Northwest Side CDC also are assembling financing for the development, including an application for federal affordable housing tax credits. Those credits are given to developers that agree to provide apartments at below-market rents to moderate-income families and senior citizens.
The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority allocates the tax credits in a competitive process, and a decision could come by April, Laurent said. If the project receives financing, construction could begin by early fall, with Villard Square opening by summer 2010, he said.
Developers sell the credits to raise equity financing, and the demand for tax credits has dropped because of the recession. Still, there are banks willing to buy credits for high-profile projects such as Villard Square, said Howard Snyder, Northwest Side CDC executive director.
Villard Square’s apartments, a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, would rent for $550 to $875 a month.
The apartments would be rented to people earning no more than 60% of the Milwaukee area’s median income. For a two-person household, that maximum income is $32,520, with the limits increasing as the household size increases.
With so many young children, Villard Square’s atmosphere probably would be much livelier than other apartment buildings for senior citizens.
“The noise level is pretty high,” Taylor said about GrandParent Family Apartments. “It’s not a nice, peaceful retirement.”