Madison’s homeless community may soon have an option for permanent housing in the city’s 15th district, although the chosen location for the 60-unit facility is facing some scrutiny from local officials.
Natalie Erdman, executive director of the city’s Community Development Authority, said city staff have selected property on the 700 block of Rethke Avenue, off East Washington Avenue, to build a complex offering permanent housing and other services for Madison’s homeless community.
Ald. David Ahrens, District 15, said he opposes building the facility at the location on Rethke Avenue. He said his district will not benefit from the complex, and may be harmed by the large concentration of homeless people.
“I don’t think it would be good for the district,” he said. “I don’t think it would be good for the particular neighborhood. It’s a poor neighborhood, with a crime rate that is well above average than the city as a whole. I don’t think it would be good for the residents.”
Erdman said city staff did a thorough search for possible properties for the building, starting with 20 different lots. Staff then narrowed the list down to six, and chose the location at Rethke Avenue as it met the necessary criteria and had an affordable price.
Aherns said the criteria for the location, which includes convenient transportation nearby and access to affordable health care in the area, can be met elsewhere.
“There are lots of bus lines that are in wealthier areas,” he said. “I don’t know if they were considered.”
Aherns also said he was concerned by the concept of “warehousing” the homeless in the 60-unit complex. He said other such facilities in Wisconsin that only have 30 units. Still, Aherns agreed that the idea of building homes for the city’s chronically homeless community is a necessary action to solve the problem.
Brenda Konkel, Tenant Resource Center executive director and a local homeless advocate, said this type of project should have been completed in Madison years ago.
“It’s so long overdue it is absurd,” Konkel said. “We have over 500 chronically homeless people in the city of Madison and this will help maybe 50.”
Konkel said she has no concerns about the potential location and has faith in Heartland Housing, the Chicago-based organization that will run the complex. Konkel said Heartland will offer services to the homeless living in the building, including advising and emotional support.
Erdman said the housing will only be offered to those considered chronically homeless in the community. She said most of the apartments will be paid for using Section 8 vouchers, meaning the federal Department Housing and Urban Development will subsidize most of the payment for tenants.
Aherns said the city will have to apply for this competitive federal funding in March. He said the city may not hear back about the funding until June.
Erdman said the project also needs approval from the city’s Plan Commission and has a long way to go before construction can begin on the complex.
“We have a ways to go before we’re gonna be ready to talk about construction,” Erdman said. “If things go well in terms of details, it may be the first quarter of next year.”