Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Redeveloped 37th Street School Opens

Affordable apartments available for seniors, with neighborhood resident serving as developer.

By - Oct 13th, 2021 07:09 pm
37th Street School senior apartments. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

37th Street School senior apartments. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Surrounded by friends, family, project backers and a large network of project contractors Wednesday afternoon, Rafael Garcia ceremonially cut the ribbon on the redeveloped 37th Street School. It now houses 49 apartments for seniors, with 43 units set aside at below-market rates for qualifying individuals.

“I truly am humbled by the amount of work and support by people who weren’t even paid on this project,” said Garcia. The celebration was a long-time coming.

Built in 1903, the three-story school, 1715 N. 37th St., had been vacant since 2006. It had degraded substantially since the point Milwaukee Public Schools vacated the building, with water filling the basement. We first reported on a proposal to save the building in 2017, but Garcia said that he and Community First co-founder Lamont Davis began working on a plan to redevelop the school in 2013.

Why was it so important to him? “This is my neighborhood,” said Garcia of the area just east of Washington Park. “This is the community I grew up in. This is the neighborhood I raised my kids in and now I’m raising my grandkids in. This is important to me. I live, work and I play here.”

As required by state law, the city listed the property for sale via a request for proposals. Area Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II said multiple bids came in. “But what I liked the most about the proposal and why it was viewed a little bit more favorably is it involves a young, up-and-coming developer who lives in the neighborhood,” said the alderman.

Garcia, a graduate of the Associates in Commercial Real Estate program designed to train minorities for careers in real estate, had put in the work to be ready for the project. Community First has supported more than 200 homeowners to make repairs to their houses. Before that, he worked for the YMCA supporting its housing pipeline.

“Eleven years ago Rafael was my supervisor,” said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley of his time at the YMCA. He was effusive in his praise for Garcia’s growth. “I know it’s not easy but these are the things we love to see within Milwaukee County.”

The bulk of the funding for what, as of 2020, is a $13.3 million project comes from low-income housing tax credits administered by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.

“Seven million dollars is a good amount, but have you seen these buildings?” said WHEDA CEO Joaquín Altoro, who also lives near the school. “It takes a lasagna effect to get them done.”

The Italian food reference, first coined by Department of City Development housing specialist Maria Prioletta in reference to the many layers required to advance affordable housing projects, was in full effect for the 37th Street School project. The city is contributing $460,000 via a developer-financed tax incremental financing district (essentially a property tax rebate). The project’s financing package also relies on historic preservation tax credits, $135,000 from the city’s Housing Trust Fund, $200,000 in city HOME funds and $645,000 from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago’s affordable housing program. MPS was paid $210,000 for the 1.6-acre property.

The development team has also agreed to have unemployed or underemployed city residents perform 40% of the project’s construction work hours and hire disadvantaged small businesses to perform 25% of the project’s construction budget.

Prioletta and community development grants administrator Steve Mahan drew praise from Garcia for their support of the project.

“This development represents a true public-private partnership and the kind of vital collaboration that creates new affordable housing,” said DCD Commissioner Lafayette Crump.

Garcia partnered on the project with Heartland Housing, a nonprofit housing developer based in Chicago. It’s the organization’s fifth Milwaukee project. The organization also operates Maskani Place, St. Anthony Apartments, Capuchin Apartments and Praire Apartments.

Five tenants have already moved in. “To my knowledge, we have a lot more interest,” said Heartland Executive Director Earl Chase. Low-income housing tax credits almost never have problems finding tenants, with Garcia and others noting the city is believed to have a shortage of 30,000 truly affordable units.

Rent is $394 is to $900 per month, depending on unit size and individual income. Income requirements range from $17,500 to $45,000 with the credits establishing a target of rent not exceeding 30% of a household’s income. All residents must be 55 years old or older. As part of the city financing agreement and anti-displacement program, 20% of the units will be set aside for existing area residents.

Greenfire Management Services led the project’s general contracting. Landon Bone Baker Architects led the project design. BMO Harris Bank purchased the tax credits to provide the necessary capital.

Leasing information is available on the Heartland website.

Garcia is also part of Index Development Group, which turned its ACRE class project into reality by developing the Villard Commons building. Index partners Que El-Amin and Jackie Carter as well as fellow ACRE graduate Mikal Wesley were among those in attendance Wednesday.




Pre-Construction Photos and Rendering

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One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Redeveloped 37th Street School Opens”

  1. Mdamat says:

    Great project. Shows what can be done when you have a proven developer working with all levels of government towards a unified goal. Congratulations to Rafael and all those involved. Without this coalition we’re left with just another blighted building that’s a drag on the neighborhood and city taxpayers. Good government at work. Well done!

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