To curb negative behavior that is affecting residents of a Madison affordable housing complex, a west side neighborhood and possibly the viability of the city’s approach to fighting homelessness, Mayor Paul Soglin said last week he is assigning a deputy mayor to monitor Tree Lane Family Apartments.
The apartment complex at 7933 Tree Lane is the city’s second investment in permanent supportive housing, which utilizes a “housing first” approach to homelessness that combines stable housing with services like mental health resources, addiction counseling and job placement.
“We knew from the very beginning we were going to have challenges,” Soglin said at a press conference, noting that a couple of families are causing major problems.
The $11.75 million, 45-unit project opened in mid-June. Since its opening, police calls to address fighting, partying, drinking alcohol and playing loud music have remained consistent.
Most recently, a woman was shot Nov. 19 inside her apartment at Tree Lane. Detectives determined the suspect fired one round through the victim’s apartment door after he had been kicked out of the residence for fighting with another man, according to the police incident report.
The bullet went through the door and hit the victim in the arm, police said, and she suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Soglin said he is taking the “extraordinary” step of assigning Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes, a former Madison Police Department officer and detective, to Tree Lane “because so much is at stake.”
Reyes, who is also a member of the Madison School Board, will be on site to collect information, track police calls for service and report back to Soglin and the City Council. She met with Tree Lane residents Nov. 22.
“The majority of our residents who live there are concerned for their safety, and they are following rules,” Reyes said.
She said a safety team is being assembled and will report back to the city in December or January with recommendations. Members of the team will include representatives from the Community Development Division, Madison Police Department, YWCA and the development’s operator, Heartland Housing.
A statement from Heartland Housing acknowledged the safety and security issues at Tree Lane apartments affect the neighborhood and jeopardize the city’s effort at addressing homelessness.
“Our residents face challenges as they heal from chronic homelessness and adjust to living in a safe space with others,” the statement said. “The vast majority of our residents have adjusted to their new homes quite well and respect the goals of the community.”
Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, remains dissatisfied with Heartland Housing though he is supportive of the project at that site. He said a lack of security and monitoring are major problems.
“Heartland has failed in their promise to keep us safe, and that’s something that the police department and I have been aware of and we’ve tried to address but have been unable to,” Skidmore said. “They’re not doing what is necessary to keep that place safe as possible.”
Housing first model
Soglin said he is concerned that the recent troubles at Tree Lane could jeopardize the city’s future efforts at building housing for the chronically homeless.
“The greatest fear is that we will get opposition in coming months and in coming years to more affordable housing construction, particularly for those who are chronically homeless,” Soglin said.
The housing first model, as expressed by Soglin, is the commitment to focus first on housing and then addressing the types of support an individual or family may need.
“We no longer say, in effect, to a household, ‘You have to get your life in order and then we will work with you to provide housing,’” Soglin said.
The Wisconsin Interagency Council on Homelessness, which first convened last year, this week released a statewide plan to address homelessness that utilizes a "housing first" model.
The city opened Rethke Terrace, the first permanent supportive housing development, in June 2016. The $8.9 million, four-story, 60-unit building for homeless individuals and veterans, located at 715 Rethke Avenue, saw a rise in police calls over the summer.
Despite the challenges, Soglin said the housing first model is working.
“While we’ve had some challenges at Rethke and some challenges on the west side, by and large, the program has been successful,” Soglin said.
A proposal for a third permanent supportive housing site slated for 1202 South Park Street would include 58 units for homeless adults and 1,200 square feet of commercial space. The city has committed $1.9 million from its Affordable Housing Fund to the project, and it was awarded $8.1 million in federal tax credits earlier this year.
The project is working through the city’s development approval process.
“There’s not much question in my mind that this is going to provide obstacles to doing the project on Park Street,” Soglin said. “That’s why we’ve got to get this right, and we’ve got to fix it.”
Due to the challenging nature of this type of development, a recent round of affordable housing proposals did not include a fourth permanent supportive housing project.