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Tree Lane Apartments (copy)

Tree Lane Family Apartments 

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said Friday a city-funded security officer at a west side apartment complex for formerly homeless families is necessary as a temporary solution to addressing challenges at the site.

Soglin said case management will be the key to success in the long term at Tree Lane Apartments, but he is proposing a resolution to fund the officer to stabilize the housing complex for formerly homeless families.

“We’ve got to bring more security to area residents and neighbors, and this is a solution,” Soglin said. “It’s quite an exception, but I think it will work and it will get us to where we need to be.”

Tree Lane Apartments is the city’s second investment in a housing-first approach that partners stable housing with support services like mental health resources, addiction counseling and job placement.

Since its opening in mid-June, the $11.75 million apartment complex has seen a number of police calls for service to address fighting, weapons offenses, domestic violence incidents and drug offenses. The criminal activity has “adversely affected the safety, security and quality of life” for Tree Lane residents, neighbors and surrounding businesses, according to the resolution.

Soglin is sponsoring the resolution, which would fund one security officer position to be staffed at the apartment complex, 7933 Tree Lane, Monday through Friday after 5 p.m. and 24 hours on weekends. Heartland Housing, the owner and operator of the apartments, began funding a security officer position available 24 hours per day and seven days a week at the beginning of 2019.

The resolution, which will be on the Finance Committee's Monday agenda for referral, would transfer $165,000 from the city’s contingent reserve to contract with Tree Lane for security services. If approved, the contingent reserve balance would be $1.77 million.

Soglin has previously acknowledged the city was “overly ambitious” with Tree Lane in terms of housing 45 families together experiencing challenges. Soglin also feared families not connected to the police calls would end up leaving.

“We didn’t get off on the right foot at Tree Lane, but I am confident, given all of the success throughout Madison, that this ship will be righted,” Soglin said.

Ald. Paul Skidmore, District 9, represents the area and has expressed serious concerns with management, security and safety at Tree Lane and how the greater neighborhood is affected.

Skidmore previously called for the city to pursue a nuisance complaint against Heartland Housing, but said he has been convinced by the mayor and city housing officials to give it one more chance. He said he supports the resolution but feels the city should not have to pay for additional security.

"I would have preferred if Heartland would have come forward to say we need more security at the facility we own and manage," Skidmore said. "This will be city money that will be stabilizing. I don't think that's appropriate."

Temporary solution

Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes stressed that the security officers are a temporary solution. The city's resolution calls for a year’s worth of funding to pay for the position, but Reyes said the city will evaluate the position in four to six months.

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“This provides (Heartland) an opportunity to stabilize a situation where we were in crisis and ensures that policies are being followed and monitoring who is coming and going so that we are protecting a population that is very vulnerable,” Reyes said.

Reyes has been based at Tree Lane since November at the direction of Soglin. She said the security offices will help Heartland manage day-to-day safety concerns and help residents feel safe.

"We want to provide an atmosphere, an environment where (residents are) not going to be taken advantage and meanwhile, supporting them and empowering them,” Reyes said. “As we move along the process, the idea is empowering our residents to make their own decisions. In the meantime, the security component brings the safety net.”

Reyes said the city is also working toward a resolution that would boost the amount of support services available at the apartment complex.

The YWCA of Madison was previously offering services but has since left the site. Reyes said the city is working now to find a replacement organization, or a collaboration of organizations, to take over that work.

As the city has been working to find a replacement, Soglin said there are few qualified and committed professionals in the area. To address that dearth, Soglin said he is looking into the possibility of setting up a certified training program for managing housing that also offers supportive case management.

In addition to hiring a security officer, Reyes said the facility has begun monitoring parking and identifying visitors more closely, closed the back entrance and moved to evict seven families.

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.