Candace Romano

Change on the horizon at the Westlawn housing project

By - Nov 28th, 2011 04:00 am
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The Westlawn affordable housing project now under construction. Photos by the author.

With 726 units on 75 acres, Westlawn was the city’s largest affordable housing project when the Milwaukee Housing Authority built it in 1952.

“When Westlawn was first built, it was surrounded by fields,” said Paul Williams, communications coordinator for the authority. “The city grew around it.”

That barracks-style project has largely been demolished, and a new multi-phase multi-year affordable housing project with 950 units is being built in its place. Westlawn was bound by West Silver Spring Avenue on the north, North 60th Street on the east, North 68th Street on the west and Lincoln Creek on the south.

When completed, Williams said the hope is that it will once again be a catalyst for the northwest side neighborhood that is anchored by the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center and Browning Elementary School.

“The idea is to create a mixed-income development,” said Williams. “We find it creates a stronger neighborhood.”

The first phrase of the project will have two three-story midrise buildings, one specifically for seniors and another for seniors and people with disabilities, with 47 units each. Those buildings are now under construction, and the cost is $82 million, funded largely by $73 million in tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

Torti Gallas and Partners, headquartered in Maryland, is the designer and contractor on the project. KINDNESS Architects + Planning and Hunzinger Construction Co. are providing local oversight.

Also included in the first phase on the eastern half of the site are 156 units in a variety of housing styles, including townhouses and side-by-sides. There are also plans for market-rate homes along North 60th Street and Lincoln Creek, said Williams.

“There’s also retail planned on 60th and Silver Spring,” he said, “a mixed-use retail space. We’re not sure what will go there, but something that’s needed in the neighborhood.”

The first phase is expected to be completed by December 2012.

“Just about a year from now, you’ll see a dramatic change in Westlawn,” Williams said.

Also included in the plan for the first phase are community gardens and picnic and informal sports areas by Lincoln Creek. “A linear park along Lincoln Creek is planned to reconnect the neighborhood to Lincoln Creek.”

Williams said families living in Westlawn were displaced when demolition of the eastern edge began. “Because this revitalization required us to take down the eastern half, it did require families to move to our other developments. The process was really working one-on-one to find out what their needs were and help them make the move.”

When the first phase is completed, Williams said those displaced families will have the option to move back to their former neighborhood. If they opt out, he said “the Housing Authority has a waiting list of thousands of families.”

Williams acknowledged that displacing families caused hardship. Yet the Housing Authority had an obligation – and opportunity – to demolish the distressed housing stock and replace it with more up-to-date multi- and single-family units, he said.

“It’s a combination of the need to modernize our housing to make sure it’s going to be around for some time to come,” he said. “We’re always in the process of assessing our buildings … to make sure affordable housing is always available.”

Right now, plans and cost estimates to build housing on the western half of the site are not set, said Williams.

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