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Madison committee backs spending $165,000 for security at apartments for homeless families

January 15, 2019

The Madison Finance Committee on Monday recommended using $165,000 from the city’s contingent reserve fund to increase the security presence at a troubled Far West Side apartment building for formerly homeless families.

Mayor Paul Soglin offered the proposal in response to behavior and security concerns at Heartland Housing’s $11.7 million Tree Lane Apartments at 7933 Tree Lane as a temporary way to fix problems while longer-term solutions, such as an increase in support services for the chronically homeless families, are worked out.

“It’s my belief that we get the security in, we make the place secure, it will give us an opportunity to double back, make corrections, make improvements that are necessary,” Soglin said.

Ald. Paul Skidmore, 9th District, offered an amendment to Soglin’s proposal, which the Finance Committee approved, that would open the possibility of Madison police officers being used at the four-story, 45-unit building, instead of having the money being solely available for private security.

Jim O’Keefe, the city community development director, said the amendment creates flexibility in case progress isn’t made through additional private security. The $165,000 is enough to cover the cost of more private security for all of 2019, if it is necessary, but doesn’t take into account the costs of assigning a police officer on special duty to Tree Lane, he said.

The apartments are the city’s second experiment with the Housing First model of addressing homelessness in which tenants are admitted with little or no conditions and support services are voluntary.

Heartland has made changes to building access and installed additional security cameras, among other things, to address safety concerns, which city officials say are sometimes attributed to unwanted guests. O’Keefe said Heartland has also increased its spending on security from $145,000 annually to $226,000 so as to have one security person there around the clock.

Soglin’s proposal would enable Heartland to hire a second private security person who would be at the apartments between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends.

Another proposal to spend more on social services at Tree Lane Apartments is likely to be introduced to the City Council in February, O’Keefe said. Currently, the city pays $50,000 of the $165,000 annual budget for support services there.

Late last year, Soglin assigned Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes to lead a team to address safety and quality-of-life concerns. The team 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 Skidmore, whose district includes the apartments.

An increase in security was one of the recommendations the group offered.

Soglin said it was “overly ambitious” to build such a project with 45 units, adding that a smaller apartment building for homeless families might have been more appropriate. He said four families have either left or are about to leave the building, and the plan is to leave those units vacant.

While dozens of area residents turned out for a community meeting on Tree Lane in December, no one spoke on the proposal during the public comment period Monday. If the $165,000 is approved by the City Council, Madison’s contingent reserve fund would stand at $1,765,000.

Other items pass

Additionally, the Finance Committee recommended the city spend $5.5 million to buy land next to Olin Park that would add about 450 feet of shoreline to the public space.

The money to buy the 3.65 acres from the Wisconsin Medical Society, at 330 and 342 E. Lakeside St., would come from the city’s Parkland Impact Fee District — a fund that is made up from developers who do not dedicate parkland as part of their development projects.

Currently, there is a two-story, 41,026-square-foot office building and surface parking lot on the Wisconsin Medical Society property.

In other action, the developer renovating the Garver Feed Mill on the East Side could regain its rights to build “micro-lodges” next to the historic building after the committee signaled its support.

Baum Revision, of Chicago, lost its rights to develop the short-term rental units as it failed to provide the necessary documents to prove it could finance the micro-lodge component by June 30.

A new agreement with the city, which the Finance Committee approved, would more clearly spell out when Baum has until to close on the property, how long it would be given to start construction and when it would need to build a minimum of 35 micro-lodges, with the option of doing up to 50.

Baum is renovating the feed mill for several food processing and wellness businesses at a cost of $14.4 million with work expected to be complete in the summer.

The money for security at Tree Lane Apartments, Olin Park property purchase and Garver Feed Mill micro-lodges are expected to be on the City Council agenda on Jan. 22.

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