Unique Apartments for Clarke Square
Unusual partnership will build "affordable, quality housing" for those raised in foster care.
A joint proposal by a profit-making company and a non-profit, from Cardinal Capital Management and Journey House, would add 40 apartments to two sites in Milwaukee’s Clarke Square neighborhood. The Journey House CEO, Dr. Michele Bria, described the proposal as “a $15 million investment in our community that could really bring affordable, quality housing.” The proposal was unanimously granted conditional approval by the City Plan Commission yesterday, although a handful of neighbors passionately testified in opposition.
The proposal, known as Clarke Square Apartments, comes as part of Journey Housing’s Campus Housing Initiative, which aims to provide housing for young adults who are aging out of the foster care system or are otherwise homeless. The non-profit has already opened two buildings, totaling 10 apartments, in previously tax foreclosed buildings purchased from the city. According to Bria, 12 to 15 of the one bedroom units will be set aside for individuals aging out of the foster care system.
Cardinal will own 75 percent of the development. The developer and Journey House originally sought to build 47 units, but reduced the unit count following a public meeting held by area alderman Bob Donovan. The proposed mix of units includes 21 one-bedroom units, 13 two-bedroom units and 6 three-bedroom units. Bria noted that the larger units would be marketed towards the area’s predominantly Latino families that often have larger family sizes.
The development would be built on two sites immediately bordering the full block Clarke Square Park. As part of the transaction, the city would sell two vacant parcels to the development team that were acquired via tax foreclosure. One of those parcels, 2331 W. Vieau Pl., housed the recently demolished and long vacant Lao Family Center, which was severely damaged in a three-alarm fire in 2014. The sale price on the two lots has not been finalized. The other is a small lot at 918 S. 24th St. which would be combined with an already acquired lot at 2330 W. Mineral St. A vacant home at the W. Mineral St. site would be demolished. Forty-five parking spaces would be included in the development.
The building on the southwest corner of the lot on W. Vieau Pl. would have 23 units. The building on the northwest corner of the park on W. Mineral St. would have 17 units.
Journey House has a stated mission to “empower families on Milwaukee’s near southside to move out of poverty through adult education, youth development, workforce readiness and family engagement.” The organization, which is located at 2110 W. Scott St., was founded in 1969.
Possible Tenant Issues
Concerns over inappropriate behavior from the younger tenants were raised by those testifying in opposition and members of the commission. Bria noted that Journey House will not have an on-site resident manager, but does have a number of staff in the area and might have staff living in one of the buildings in the future. She went on to state that “we call it campus housing to mirror that it would be no different than a freshman living at McCormick hall at Marquette.” Bob McCormick also noted that Cardinal operates over 1,000 units in the Milwaukee area and has a 24-hour maintenance staff.
Is Density a Bad Thing?
Opposition at the hearing was led by William and Elizabeth Zembrowski and their daughter Rachel. The family, which resides on S. 24th St., opposes the size of the project and raised concerns over density, parking and crime. William noted during his testimony “what they want to do is admirable, but make it smaller please.” His daughter Rachel took things a step further, stating “cut it down, at least in half.” She added that when parking these days, “you sometimes have to walk over a block to get back to your house after work. It is insane.”
Commissioner Joaquin Altoro replied that “density is not necessarily a bad thing.” Reflecting on his childhood growing up in the area, Altoro noted that “the park has lost its soul.” He noted that the park, which is often underutilized today, was full of kids until the 1990’s.
While the project is next headed to the council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee, neighbors could be set to trigger a requirement for a super majority of the council to approve the project. A petition, reportedly signed by 23 nearby residents in opposition, was waved before the commission at the hearing. Should the signatures on the petition be certified by the City Clerk‘s office to be from nearby property owners, a zoning charge would require 12 of 15 votes in favor at the full council.
Should the project receive tax credits, it will return to the City Plan Commission for an additional approval. Tax credit awards are anticipated to be announced in April. Cardinal hopes to begin construction in the fall of 2017.