Residential Development Writes Milwaukee Success

A housing renaissance taking place in Milwaukee’s central city is breathing new life into neighborhoods once neglected and crime-ridden. Subsidies from the City of Milwaukee and private investors have made the new housing affordable for neighborhood residents.

The revitalization began in 1995 with the City Homes project, the first residential subdivision to be developed in the central city in 30 years. Located at North 21st and West Walnut Streets, City Homes provided vacant lots for 43 homes. The homes featured classic front porches, custom cabinets, Kohler fixtures, a high-energy furnace, a two-car garage and a 10-year builder’s warranty.

“The plan was to attract more homeowners to the neighborhood who would want to work with their neighbors in keeping their community safe and attractive,” said Andrea Rowe Richards, Communications Manager for the Department of City Development and Housing Authority.

Initially, construction of the homes cost approximately $110,000 and a tax incremental financing (TIF) district helped to write down the purchase price. A TIF provides funding that is later paid back with property taxes generated by new developments.

The homes began selling at an average of $76,000, with the TIF district absorbing up to $22,000 and private contributions absorbing the balance. By the time the last house was sold, prices of the homes had risen to between $90,000 and $95,000.

Strong market demands led the city to expand the TIF district in 1997 to accommodate 34 sites on adjoining blocks. Homes had been construction on all the sites by the end of 2003. Lindsay Heights, a second housing development, involved the construction of 120 homes and the renovation of 100 existing homes. WHEDA, Gorman & Company, and the City of Milwaukee all partnered in this venture.

Since the development of City Homes and Lindsay Heights, Mayor Tom Barrett has approved an additional $1 million for a TIF district to fund new construction and additional renovations to homes north of North Avenue.

Financial backing for the housing projects has also come from private investors. “Through the city of Milwaukee’s public investment in these central city neighborhoods, we’ve been able to leverage additional private investment over time,” said Rowe Richards. The city marked the grand opening of another development, Lindsay Commons, in August. Located at 2035 W. Galena St., the property sits on an area formerly occupied by London Square apartments. The apartment complex was considered a neighborhood nuisance.

“The owners lived outside of Wisconsin and they had not kept up the property nor had they addressed issues of neglect and crime,” said Rowe Richards. “The area in general was not considered safe.”

Lindsay Commons has been designed to be both attractive and affordable for families. The 115-unit complex includes a new community building that will house a learning center, a community room with a kitchen, and several outdoor playgrounds.

The city’s plans for 2006 include completion of both Josey Heights, a 53-unit house and condominium project to be built on land originally intended for the Park West freeway, and Cherry Court, a high-rise public housing unit that will be reconstructed as a mid-rise unit. In addition, the city’s Housing Authority plans to construct 77 single-family houses within a two-mile radius of the Cherry Court mid-rise.

How has the new housing impacted the central city?

“When people buy into a neighborhood, they care about their investment and about their living environment,” said Rowe Richards. “We saw a change over time, as community groups were formed in the Lindsay Heights/City Homes area. New homeowners have banded together to address issues of crime and neglect. This is a Milwaukee success story.”