Over a dozen individuals have started moving into Rethke Terrace Apartments, the first of what the city hopes will be five new permanent supportive affordable housing sites in Madison.

The four-story, 60-unit building at 715 Rethke Ave. developed by Heartland Housing Inc. will provide studio apartments for formerly homeless single adults and supportive services for those individuals, including medical, mental health and substance abuse assistance. Twenty-five of the 60 units are reserved for veterans.

Madison housing initiatives specialist Matt Wachter said Rethke’s model of providing services in an affordable housing complex is a first for the city. Permanent supportive housing is designed to serve individuals who would not be able to stay housed without a range of comprehensive services and who need to be housed to fully participate in them.

“I definitely have high hopes and believe that the model gives results and takes some of our hardest-to-serve people and gives some breathing room to the rest of the system,” Wachter said.

In addition to supportive services, the complex includes amenities such as a community room, fitness center, library, computer lab, commercial grade teaching kitchen, second floor roof garden and edible landscaping.

Property manager said Myles Tourtillott said 16 residents of the estimated 60 are settling into their new home. Heartland, in coordination with the city, is working to identify vulnerable, challenged individuals who have been homeless for an extended period of time.

All 60 individuals have not yet been identified and the building will not be at capacity at its grand opening June 15. Tourtillott said he hopes to have all 60 residents moved in by August.

Rooms include a full-size kitchen and private bathroom with the option to obtain basic furnishings. Volunteers with the Friends of the State Street Family, an organization that assists homeless people living on the street, led a donation effort and collected home and hygiene items such as sheets, towels, dish and laundry soap to help residents start off with the basics.

Tami Fleming, a volunteer, said some of the new Rethke residents are familiar faces.

“A lot of people that have been outside that we’ve been caring about and trying to help make it ... are going to be housed now, and that’s really exciting for us,” Fleming said.

One step in affordable housing strategy

The opening of Rethke marks the first tangible results of the city’s permanent supportive housing initiative, also known as housing first.

In 2014, Mayor Paul Soglin announced an initiative to support the development of 750 additional units of affordable housing by dedicating over $20 million over the next five years to a new Affordable Housing Fund. This fund is used to take advantage of federal low-income housing tax credits to help finance new developments.

Heartland received $5.4 million of these tax credits, allocated and administered by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, community development director Jim O’Keefe said. The city contributed $1.45 million, including $300,000 for pre-development costs, and Dane County provided $950,000 to the nearly $9 million development.

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While O’Keefe acknowledges the significance of Rethke, he tempered his enthusiasm for the citywide effect this project will have on Madison as a whole.

“Knowing that real people who have been homeless … for a good deal of time are going to have permanent housing and have access to support services that will dramatically increase success in housing is a huge step,” O’Keefe said. “But it’s not going to solve the homeless problem in the city.”

The city’s 2016 capital budget includes up to $6 million for the Affordable Housing Fund. Of that, up to $1.5 million is authorized for construction of the second phase of the permanent supportive housing initiative, which targets homeless families.

O’Keefe said the hope was to introduce a new housing project each year beginning with Rethke, but the 45-unit family-oriented housing site at 7933 Tree Lane was delayed last year after failing to get tax credits.

After receiving tax credits this April, the Tree Lane project is moving forward, and O’Keefe estimates it will break ground in 2017. The city is also taking initial steps for a third phase of development and looking for potential sites — a lengthy process.

Wachter said specific requirements for a site include proximity to bus lines that run seven days a week, grocery stores and healthcare services. Locations are then narrowed down by zoning and how “buildable” the site is, Wachter said.