Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Garden Homes Project May Get Extension

Ald. Hamilton backs redevelopment, once threatened to camp out if neighborhood not cleaned up.

By - Apr 12th, 2022 04:30 pm
Garden Homes Park. Photo by Carl Baehr.

Garden Homes Park. Photo by Carl Baehr.

The developers behind a delayed proposal to rehabilitate 30 units of housing in a historic city neighborhood and rent the units out at below-market rates to low-income occupants is poised to receive an extension from the city.

A partnership of the nonprofit 30th Street Industrial Corridor Corporation and Impact Seven would renovate a group of city-owned homes surrounding Garden Homes Park, located just east of N. 27th St. and W. Atkinson Ave.

The development team received low-income housing tax credits to fund the project in April 2020. But the project didn’t move forward as expected, in part because of rising construction costs.

An extension, unanimously approved Tuesday morning by the Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee, would give the development team until June 30 to close on the purchase. A one-month emergency extension would be available.

“We already have agreements in place that just need your approvals,” said Department of City Development real estate services manager Amy Turim. She said the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority has already granted an extension on the tax credits, which form the backbone of the project’s financing stack.

Area Alderman Ashanti Hamilton is supporting the extension.

“I am excited that this is continuing to move forward,” he said to his fellow committee members. “We are still excited about it. Looking forward to the impact this could have.”

He also praised DCD, which was surprising given that he publicly shamed the department in September regarding the condition of that very neighborhood.

On Sept. 9, Hamilton was so frustrated by a months-long accumulation of trash on a collection of boarded-up, city-owned homes near the park that he announced he was going to camp out next to them until things were cleaned up.

The alderman sent out a press release critical of DCD and an unnamed contractor at 5:17 p.m. that day. By 8:15 p.m., Hamilton said a crew led by T.L. Reese Corporation was on site cleaning up the mess. Multiple trailers were needed. Urban Milwaukee arrived shortly thereafter to see the cleanup progress.

“There was a mountain of tires. There was a trash heap with a dead body. There were mattresses. There was a full furniture set blocking the alley,” said Hamilton, describing the garbage that had accumulated on the 2600 block of W. Port Sunlight Way, in an interview. He said the narrow street had acquired the nickname “Atkinstan,” a reference to war-torn Afghanistan and nearby W. Atkinson Ave.

“Normally this is filled with people,” said Hamilton, noting that the area had become a magnet for open-air drug trafficking, prostitution and drug use. Things got so bad that Hamilton said those involved in the drug trade and prostitution were helping clean it up before the city and its contractor.

The alderman said the particular garbage issue first came to his attention in July when a dead body was pulled from a garbage pile. He believes the body was called into the police and his office subsequently called in the trash for cleanup by the city. But the garbage pile remained.

But even that night, Hamilton said he was optimistic that the housing project could help the situation.

He praised long-time area resident Martha Freeman and other residents for continuing to advocate for the Garden Homes neighborhood.

The neighborhood was built as a city-sponsored housing cooperative for World War I veterans and other working-class families in the 1920s. Originally for whites only, it became a predominantly Black middle-class neighborhood in the heyday of then-nearby manufacturer A.O. Smith. But the company’s closure triggered a spiral of disinvestment in the neighborhood.

Under an Obama-era program, the surrounding neighborhood was designated a Promise Zone as part of an effort to improve conditions in low-income areas.

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