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Tree Lane Apartments

In response to a high volume of police calls at the Tree Lane Apartments for homeless families, Mayor Paul Soglin is proposing that the city spend $165,000 for added private security at the project, which opened last summer.

In response to continuing behavior and crime concerns, Mayor Paul Soglin is proposing to provide $165,000 for extra private security at the Tree Lane apartments for homeless families on the Far West Side.

Heartland Housing’s $11.7 million, four-story, 45-unit project at 7933 Tree Lane — Madison’s second big experiment with a Housing First approach to homelessness — has provided permanent housing for 45 of the city’s neediest homeless families, but also required much police attention for incidents including gunfire, the arrest of a person for an attempted homicide at another location, fights and more.

“Right now, a combination of factors do require additional security for the best interest of the residents and the neighborhood,” Soglin said. “Our long-term objective is for the project site to be no different than any other building and not need security. This is a very reasonable expectation.”

Heartland spokesman Joseph Dutra said: “The strong majority of our residents have adjusted to their new homes quite well and appreciate the goals of the community. We welcome all support from our partners in the efforts to end homelessness in Madison.”

Late last year, Soglin assigned Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes to lead a team that includes representatives of Madison police, Heartland, YWCA Madison — which provides support services at the building but is leaving in mid-March — the city’s Community Development Division and Ald. Paul Skidmore, whose 9th District includes the apartments, to address safety and quality-of-life problems.

The group determined that the apartments need a higher level of support services and security improvements.

Heartland has made changes affecting building access, rules enforcement, parking restrictions, lighting, installment of security cameras, coordination with law enforcement and staffing schedules, and raised spending to have one private security person on site at all times.

“We have achieved many of our short-term goals to enhance apartment and community safety,” Dutra said.

The mayor’s proposed funding would enable Heartland to have a second private security person on site between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays and 24-7 on weekends.

“The primary challenge has been visitors and guests to the building,” said Jim O’Keefe, city community development director. “We’re trying to settle things down” and provide safety and security for residents in the building and the surrounding area.

Skidmore, noting that police had about 90 calls for service — with 19 people arrested, cited or probable cause for arrest developed — between Sept. 17 and Dec. 17, said problems persist and has demanded that Heartland address behavior and crime issues. He has called for more security, including at least two armed private security personnel at the property 24-7.

But he still backs the concept of Housing First and intends to support Soglin’s resolution. “We want this to work,” he said.

The mayor’s proposal will be considered by the city’s Finance Committee on Monday and by the City Council at a later date.

The resolution also says that city staff are preparing recommendations to address support services needs, and in coming weeks, will offer a draft resolution for consideration by the mayor and City Council.

Soglin said he expects a more comprehensive approach to support services will calm the building and that the extra security spending won’t be needed beyond 2019.

O’Keefe said staff is likely to recommend an anchor presence to deliver case management services and coordination, but to also bring in agencies that specialize in substance abuse, mental health, employment and child care. “We’re looking for more of a team approach,” he said.

The change in support services will be more expensive, O’Keefe said, noting that a similar Heartland project in Milwaukee has a $650,000 budget for support services funded largely by Milwaukee County and that Tree Lane’s budget for those services is $165,000.

“It’s certainly going to require additional funds to provide these services,” he said, adding that the city will be exploring all possible revenue sources. Still, “there’s likely to be a higher, long-term commitment city funding,” he said.

If problems continue, Skidmore said he’ll pursue a nuisance abatement, which can lead to actions including a meeting with police and the city attorney’s office, a written abatement plan, fines, billing for police time, asking the court to appoint a receiver to manage the property and more.

Housing First is a national movement with roots in the late 1980s that puts the chronically homeless into permanent housing with no or few conditions and voluntary support services.

The city’s first try at Housing First, the $8.9 million, four-story, 60-unit Rethke Terrace, which opened for single chronic and veteran homeless at 715 Rethke Ave. on the East Side in June 2016, also generated a troubling number of police calls but has improved.

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Dean Mosiman covers Madison city government for the Wisconsin State Journal.