Construction Starts on Villard Commons
Five ACRE grads turn classroom project into reality.
By this time next year, a classroom project to build affordable housing in an oft-overlooked Milwaukee neighborhood will have become reality for the five partners at Index Development Group.
Que El-Amin, Alexander Walker, Rafael Garcia, Jackie Carter and Heidi Turner gathered alongside friends, family and project partners Thursday afternoon to ceremonially break ground on Villard Commons, a 43-unit apartment building at N. 37th St. and W. Villard Ave.
“There was a time that a lot of people didn’t see Villard Avenue as a place to invest in,” said Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton at the chilly ceremony. “This to me is all about fighting back,” said Mayor Tom Barrett of the partners’ commitment.
Garcia and El-Amin know that all too well. They grew up within blocks of the project site.
The five partners met in 2015 while they were enrolled in the Associates of Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program. The program is intended to teach real estate development skills to women and minorities.
“He really gave me another degree in affordable housing,” said El-Amin of Roane.
El-Amin and others also praised Wyman Winston, the former Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority Executive Director. Winston, who was in attendance at the ceremony, played a critical role at multiple steps for the project, from awarding it low-income housing tax credits to advancing a construction loan and other loans for the project.
And while they celebrated a critical milestone Thursday, the Index developers don’t intend this to be the end of the road. “We have been talking about what is next,” said Garcia. “If we stop here it would be foolish.”
Before they get to what’s next they’ll want to cut the ribbon on this project. They hope to be able to do that in September 2020, inside the first-floor commercial space tenant of Rise & Grind Cafe.
The cafe is operated by Larina Hightower and Baboonie Tatum. Their first cafe was nearby at 6007 N. Teutonia Ave. and is being converted to a commercial prep kitchen. They opened a second cafe at 2737 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. in 2018.
The project’s financing, complicated by rising construction costs, is as complicated as deals get.
According to late 2018 city documents, the $7.4 million project is being financed with an $850,000 mortgage, $4.95 million in low-income housing tax credits, a $500,000 developer-financed tax-incremental financing district and $645,000 bank grant. The project will also benefit from the city allocation of $368,500 in federal HOME funds designed to create or preserve affordable housing.
El-Amin told Urban Milwaukee the project had also received a grant from the neighborhood stabilization program from the city after failing to receive a second, small allocation of low-income housing tax credits to close a financing gap. El-Amin said Index was still vying for a grant from the city’s Housing Trust Fund to finance the package.
The project required multiple city approvals because Index acquired a portion of the development site from the city and needed a zoning variance for the project.
A small one-story building will be demolished in the coming weeks to form the remainder of the development site.
All but seven of the units will be set aside for those making less than 60 percent of the area’s median income. Units include a mix of one, two and three bedroom configurations.
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