After nearly a year’s worth of struggle and controversy, developer Anthony Gray can finally begin construction on The Addison, an affordable housing project in Middleton.
The 39-unit building located at 6814 University Ave., across from the Willy St. Co-op, was approved unanimously by the Middleton City Council on Tuesday. Gray made alterations to the proposed property after facing staunch opposition from some residents.
After the vote, Gray said he will meet this week with his architect and team to determine when construction will begin.
“I’m thrilled to have progressed the project to this point,” Gray said. “The legacy of racial housing discrimination manifests itself to this day. So many black and brown folks are in positions where one illness, one layoff, can devastate a family for two generations.
“What I’m trying to do is encourage black and brown folks to fully engage in our economy, to build or gain wealth in our community, so we can create our own institutions and gain some financial agency over our own lives.”
The Addison will consist of 16 studio units, 19 one-bedroom units and four two-bedroom units. Five of the units will be designed with ADA specifications. Gray said 20% of the units will be reserved for people making less than 80% of the Dane County median income.
The average income of a Dane County resident is $33,895 and the median household income in Dane County is $62,303. However, according to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study, the black median household income in Dane County is 45% of the median white household income.
“The objective here is to create housing so that the people who work in (Middleton) will have the opportunity to live in this city and take advantage of what is one of the 10 best school systems in the nation,” Gray said.
The road to getting the Addison up and running has been a rocky one for Gray. He is one of only a handful of black developers in Dane County and the prospect of affordable housing (or “workforce housing” as it is sometimes called) did not sit well at first with some residents living near the site.
Gray encountered opposition at a Feb. 5 City Council meeting, where he attempted to get the site of the Addison rezoned. During the meeting’s public comment period, one resident said Gray’s project was not “culturally appropriate,” while others complained about the type of people who would be living there.
“The proposal is out of touch with realities,” one resident said at the time. “As the area is not zoned for such an intrusive structure physically or culturally.”
The council tied 4-4 in its vote to approve the rezoning that would allow Gray’s proposal to move forward. Mayor Gurdip Brar then broke the tie by voting against the measure, and asked that he alter his proposal by removing a story in order to make the building three stories instead of four. That alteration threw into question the financial viability of Gray’s proposal.
At a Feb. 19 council meeting, Gray unveiled a revised proposal for a three-story building that included some parking lot changes. The revisions were enough to satisfy the City Council, which approved the rezoning unanimously. The approval to rezone the area allowed Gray to move forward in his project and bring it before the Plan Commission for approval. Only one resident spoke in opposition at that meeting, mostly about parking.
Still, the experience of facing heated opposition from Middleton residents continued to resonate with Gray. He told the Cap Times that some residents showed up at an Oct. 9 Plan Commission hearing to oppose the project.
As a result, Gray came to Tuesday night’s meeting with several community activists. Eric Upchurch, the former interim executive director at the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce and the head of Opportunity Inc., a Madison company that connects black businesses to resources, addressed the City Council about the need for affordable housing.
“We do want the folks who work at Willy Street Co-op West to be able to live in the same place that they work,” Upchurch said. “But also, The Addison is addressing more than just that. Historically, real estate and housing has been used as a tool to create racial inequality and disparity. So I think we have a historic obligation to do what we can to make The Addison a reality.”
Dominique Ricks, principal at Kromrey Middle School, also spoke in favor of the project.
“I’m coming to speak as a parent, but also as an educator and a community member and a person of color when I say that Middleton is not affordable for a lot of people,” Ricks said.
“I have a lot of teachers who cannot afford to live in Middleton. I have a lot of students whose families live on the outskirts where ‘substandard’ is being polite, just so they can have their kids be in a place where they believe they’ll have the best opportunity to be successful,” she said. “And I think that says a lot. Middleton is supposed to be the Good Neighbor City and I think we have a lot of things that make us amazing. The question is, who are we willing to make it amazing for?”
Sarah Cords, who had opposed the proposal earlier this year, congratulated Gray publicly after the vote. She said she looked forward to welcoming new people to the neighborhood.
“We look forward to becoming your neighbors,” he said.