As husbands and wives age, they often imagine downsizing their living quarters. They anticipate a more leisurely lifestyle with lighter meals, carefree vacations and activities befitting a couple in their 50s or 60s with grown children. Those visions may disappear as the spare bedroom vanishes, fruit rollups and tubes of yogurt are added to the grocery list and grandchildren move in, sometimes for good.
In some senior living centers, as many tricycles as walkers line the hallways, and cities are trying to figure out the best way to accommodate – under one roof – grandparents and the children they are raising.
Thanks to a partnership between Northwest Side Community Development Corporation and Wisconsin based Gorman & Company Developing Company, low and moderate income grandparents raising grandchildren can move into the area’s first designated “grandfamily” housing unit located on the city’s north side.
Located at 3427 W. Villard Ave., Villard Square GrandFamily housing is accepting applications for a July occupation date. According to Patricia Bruce, director of Family Caregiver Support Network, Interfaith Older Adult Programs Inc., Villard Square, located above the new Villard Library, will make a big difference for older adults caring for their grandchildren, or young relatives.
“Grandfamilies and relative family caregiving has been one of the fastest growing types of families in the country,” she said. “Because the relatives often use their own financial resources for these children, they can be some of the poorest. Gorman first came to us with their intent to build GrandFamily housing in 2006. At last, thanks to Howard Snyder, executive director of Northwest Side CDC, it will happen.”
The one-, two- and three- bedroom apartments will feature central air, in-unit laundry facilities, high ceilings and study spaces. In addition, the facility will include free under-ground parking, a movie theater, rooftop patio and play area, exercise studio, beauty salon, business center, community room and a counseling lounge staffed with an on-site supportive services liaison.
The support from Jewish Family Services will serve as a liaison, linking residents to local, state and federal benefits and services. The building is expected to create a new and unique intergenerational community that will cater to the needs of older adults and their young children.
“There isn’t anything like this in Wisconsin,” said Bruce. “And at a time when social services are being cut back, this is an awesome community effort for a variety of situations.”
While Blessed Trinity Parish, located near the new Villard Square, served Catholic families in the area, the parish will close its doors in June to merge with St. Catherine Parish at 5101 W. Center St. Despite that, members hope to use the proceeds from the sale to establish an outreach center where they can continue the food pantry, emergency assistance program and their environmental sustainability efforts to meet the needs of residents in the neighborhood.
For Snyder, the housing project, which will accept Section 8 vouchers, is a happy ending to the city’s decision to close the Villard Library a couple of years ago.
“This library was one of the smaller and least significant with regards to patrons using the library, so the city decided to close this one,” he said. “The community residents went nuts and demanded that the library stay open. It did, but the building was in poor shape. If it was located in (a more affluent) neighborhood, they would have a better building. It was hard to imagine how the city in the beginning of a financial crisis would afford to build a new library.”
After Gorman & Company collaborated with Northwest CDC regarding the concept of a multi-use facility, Snyder knew it was a great idea. The $11 million project would continue to serve the area with a library, as well as fulfill the increasing need for grandfamily housing. After WHEDA approved money through housing tax credits and respite dollars for the 47-unit facility, the city agreed to fund the ground floor library.
“I am very excited about this; the data suggests that there are a lot of people who are older who are are caring for their children’s children. Parents these days are in and out of jail, dealing with drugs, mental health issues, moving due to jobs or not available due to being in the military. There are all kinds of reasons why people care for kids,” he said. “Putting Jewish Family services on the premises will offer certain services for the families. Things have changed; if you haven’t parented in 10-20 years, you may not know where the schools are, or know things that the city has to offer for families.”
Combining the new library with a housing structure will bring a lot of impetus to the Villard Avenue neighborhood explained Ted Matkom, president of Gorman & Company’s Wisconsin Market. The grandfamily housing is one of a handful around the country and initially a challenge to get going.
“It wasn’t a recognized market and was difficult at first because people didn’t know what grandfamily housing was. But having the library on the bottom gives us an edge up and is a tool that many housing areas don’t have,” he said. “There will be programming and services for after school, on-site interfaith assistance for families, and help for an underserved market of the population.”
According to Matkom, sources say that more than 20,000 grandfamilies are living in Milwaukee County under varying degrees, and screening of potential applicants is necessary for safe housing.
“Some are informal situations, such as incarceration or kinship care, but we are targeting those individuals with legal custody of the child,” he said. “We don’t want a housing situation that the parent can just come and grab the child.”
A grand opening is planned for the library in October, and Snyder hopes to coordinate the Villard Square grand opening for the same date.
“We are hoping that interest is high for this type of housing,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of kids living on the commercial strip, but we are hoping that with the influence of the library on the first floor, that interest will be high and the housing and rents will hit the spot.”