Seven04 Place Apartments is an Award Finalist
First-time developer Brandon Rule's 60-unit affordable housing development is up for a State Farm Building Blocks award at this year's MANDIs.
Housing developers are often in the business to generate profits. For President of Rule Enterprises Brandon Rule and his first development, the Seven04 Place Apartments at 704 W. National Ave., it’s more than that — it’s personal.
“I’m from the neighborhood. I was raised on 26th and National,” Rule said. “I wanted to start (a development) in my backyard.”
The Seven04 Place building is an affordable housing development with over 60 units that serves a diverse population. The history of affordable housing developments begins in 1986 when the federal government created the Housing Tax Credit program, which transferred the responsibility of providing affordable housing for those in need from the government to the private sector. Developers receive tax credits, or income tax reductions, for developing property that meets certain criteria.
Rule said his motivation to develop this apartment complex, apart from already feeling connected because he grew up nearby, was to serve a diverse clientele — one that reflects the diversity of the surrounding area — and to give people an opportunity to live in quality units they may not otherwise be able to afford.
“I saw this neighborhood facing gentrification just by the proximity being so close to downtown,” he said. “I really wanted to preserve the essentials of the neighborhood, because it’s really always been a mixed neighborhood: mixed from a racial perspective, mixed from an income perspective … and fortunately for us we were able to create a building that represented the fabric of the neighborhood.”
Getting the project off the ground was no simple feat, Rule noted.
“I think for me, specifically, being an emerging developer came with a set of challenges, my age came with a separate set of challenges, my race came with a separate set of challenges,” Rule said. “Being able to overcome those hurdles was a significant challenge. You know, this is an over-$30 million project from a developer that had never done anything before.”
The process of gaining financing for an ambitious development can be difficult, especially for a budding developer. Overcoming the obstacles was made possible by partnerships with community organizations and the recognition that a development like this is more interested in community development than large profits, Rule said.
“Just getting all of the parties to the table at the end of the day to sell on the financial part, understanding that the benefit may not have been much more than a community benefit,” Rule said. “None of the development team benefited financially — it actually lost money over the course of the development.”
What was lost financially was arguably recovered in terms of social impacts. In providing housing at affordable rates specifically to those who may need it most, including veterans and those with a history of experiencing homelesses or those at risk of experiencing homelessness, Rule hopes to take stress off of residents.
“It’s a place that’s stable, it’s clean, it’s quality, it’s new,” he said. “To be able to deliver a product at this quality, I think it’s extremely impactful to our residents because it gives a market rate feel at an extremely affordable cost and then it allows them to focus on the things they need to do.”
The effects of the development go beyond the benefits the residents receive, however. Rule said he hopes his project can be a point of inspiration.
A graduate of Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE), which is a 26-week program by LISC Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee School of Engineering and Marquette University meant to recruit and support people of color in gaining careers in real estate, Rule said his project also means a lot to his network of fellow graduates and current students in the program.
“It strengthens the network through, on one side, the sheer ability to say ‘ACRE grads did this,’” Rule said. “Then, on the other side, just all of the technical knowledge and expertise that was gained from it, and then the ability to pass it down to other ACRE graduates or even future ACRE students and alumni … I think that’s what’s really impactful.”
Strengthening networks and ensuring rentals and home ownership reflect city demographics are at the heart of Rule’s vision. He said he believes working together within Milwaukee is the key to effecting change regarding fair housing.
“I think community relationships in Milwaukee are an essential aspect to building a sustainable community and one that is inclusive and is built to last,” Rule said. “I think the more that we have partnerships, the more that we can leverage one another’s strengths to then ultimately provide a service that is greater than any one of the individuals.”
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Read more about 2020 MANDIs here