Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Tiny Homes Land Sale Approved

City committee okays sale of 7 acres for veterans' housing; zoning change still needed.

By - Sep 18th, 2019 10:14 am
Tiny homes rendering. Rendering by SEH.

Tiny homes rendering. Rendering by SEH.

A proposed land sale needed to develop a tiny home supportive housing community for military veterans was approved Tuesday morning by the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

First introduced in late July, the proposal from Veterans Outreach of Wisconsin (VoW) calls for 36 to 48 tiny homes on a seven-acre city-owned site at 6767 N. 60th St. near W. Green Tree Rd. The 240-square-foot homes, with bathrooms and a living space, would be centered around a central community building that would provide showers, a full kitchen, computers and classroom space. Programs for the residents would include financial literacy, wellness and job training. The facility would be 100 percent alcohol and drug free.

VoW, which is modeling the project after a smaller one it developed in Racine, would pay the city $35,000 for the seven-acre site and invest approximately $2 million in building out the complex. The land would be carved out of the eastern edge of a larger 40-acre site the city has long hoped to develop as the Green Tree Business Park. The city, through the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee, acquired the property in 2006 to develop the federal Job Corps Center along N. 60th St.

“They selected this site because of its proximity to public transit and major employers,” said Department of City Development real estate services manager Amy Turim.

“This property hasn’t been developed over time because of many barriers,” added Turim. She cited the lack of utilities, limited street frontage and site access issues as detriments reported back from the brokerage community. VoW would need to pay for water and sewer connections as part of the development. Solar cells atop the community center would power the development with a utility connection as a backup.

While a zoning change for the project will still be needed, the committee debated the merits of the proposal beyond the simple land sale. “What do you see as the advantage this provides versus having a multi-unit building?” asked Alderman Robert Bauman.

“Rather than the third door on the left, their house is house number six” said VoW executive director Jeff Gustin. He said the sense of private space allows veterans to more easily re-enter society. “We are working with them at their pace of recovery,” said Gustin. “We are not going to go as far as showers to avoid people being able to move in and isolate themselves.”

Bauman asked about the cost of construction as a means of comparison. “What we have come up with is between $40 to $60 per square foot for construction,” said project architect Gary Grant of SEH. “The design will not be intricate to the point of having to have a contractor to do such construction.” Grant said sweat equity from veterans and the community was a key part of the project’s development.

“That’s less than a multi-unit building’s construction costs. Substantially less,” responded Bauman.

Committee members, many of whom are among the council’s biggest advocates for affordable housing, inquired about getting projects developed in their districts. Alderman Jose G. Perez inquired about how the idea would work with small sites and what the minimum size was needed. Bauman touted the strong transit access and proximity to Downtown of the west side of his district. “Just for the record, I’m ready, willing and able to take these projects in my district,” said Bauman.

“Someone mentioned they’re close to public transportation, I mean not really. They’re fairly remote,” said Bauman, the council’s foremost transit advocate. Google Maps trip planner service estimates an hour or longer ride to Downtown from the site. Bauman characterized the area as “highly car dependent” with “Third World levels” of transit service.

But VoW representatives said they’re drawn by the nearby employers. “We’ve driven through many times, there’s a lot of employers back there that have help wanted signs,” said Gustin. City officials and VoW representatives ticked off a list of employers including Direct Supply and Sellars Absorbent Materials.

And whether the Green Tree site has good transit access or not, Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs pointed out that more developments are likely given the number of homeless or near-homeless veterans in the community. As of July, VoW officials had identified 111 homeless veterans in Milwaukee. VoW Director of development Fiona Murphy told the press in July of an individual that was living in the woods behind a commercial strip in Racine to avoid the stresses of society. That individual is now living in a tiny home in Racine. “You also have that here in epic proportions,” said Murphy.

The $2 million proposal does not rely on federal low-income housing tax credits or other federal funding. “We do not accept any [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] funding because we want to meet the veterans where they are,” said Murphy in July.

Veterans would stay in the tiny homes rent free for a period of approximately two years. “We don’t want to rush them through the program and get them out before they’re ready,” said Gustin.

A community garden and summer concert series held on the site would be relocated to the corner of the site as part of the deal, said Turim. The proposal has the support of area Alderwoman Chantia Lewis.

Construction on the proposal is not expected to start until 2020 at the earliest. Architecture firm SEH is working on the design. The commitee will review a zoning change for the project at a future meeting.

The committee unanimously endorsed the land sale.

July Press Conference Photos

Site Plans

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Related Legislation: File 190778

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