Especially when they don’t have to be clean and sober
The cost of compassion
“We must continue to create more affordable housing in Dane County,” Dane County Executive Parisi vowed last year.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin chimed in: “Tree Lane is a critical element in our commitment to provide affordable family housing. The Tree Lane project is another step in meeting our goal of 800 new units.”
Which means there is more to come. “Affordable housing” comes at a price. In the case of 7933 Tree Lane on the far west side: $11.7 million. For its companion housing at 715 Rethke Avenue on the far east side, the price tag was $8.9 million.
But those figures account only for construction costs. The cost of social services and police calls is on-going. For, in their short histories, both government-subsidized housing developments are what city officials call “troubled.” Because both sites house what had been chronically homeless — Rethke Ave. serves single adults with 60 studio apartments of 325 square feet each; Tree Lane serves families, primarily mothers with children with 45 larger apartments.
With no pre-conditions. No cleaning up their act, no requirement to get a job, no vows to avoid substance abuse or address their mental health issues. No clean and sober first. It’s part of a national experiment called Housing First that turns the traditional model of rehabilitation on its head. Give them housing first and maybe the rest comes later. No pre-conditions. At least they’re not freezing to death on a downtown grate.
Another difference: Both sites are on a much larger scale than the more familiar housing run by Porchlight and other providers.
Housing doesn’t stop fighting
The WI State Journal did a good job Sunday of detailing the problems at Rethke Avenue. That project went up early last year and generated 140 police calls in its first six months — 46 calls in the month of July; more than one a day!
Madison Police have been typically sluggish in providing the Stately Manor with comparable figures for Tree Lane but we have word of mass melees in the parking lot involving 20 to 30 people fighting. Frequent noise complaints; aimless people roaming around the neighborhood. At least, no stabbings, unlike Rethke.
Both are operated by the Heartland Institute out of Chicago. The brand new, four-story apartment building at Tree Lane opened a little over a month ago with 19 two-bedroom units, 23 three-bedroom units and 3 four-bedroom units. It is tucked away behind the shopping center on the north side of Mineral Point Road just east of the Beltline on the far west side of town. YWCA of Dane County is service provider at Tree Lane.
We appreciate the time Madison Community Development director Jim O’Keefe spent with this blogge.
Does no ‘visitors’ include the ACLU?
“Both have had their challenges,” Mr. O’Keefe acknowledged.
He blamed “visitors” at both locations for most of the problems. Now authorities are limiting who can visit and when at both locations — a policy that is sure to rile Madame Brenda Konkel and her minions. Mr. O’Keefe:
I would ask people to afford enough time to make the adjustments as we learn. I know there have been some issues out at Tree Lane in this first month; it is very much a learning process.
How does he define success?
Bringing stability to the housing situation, then working with residents to address their behavioral health issues, employment assistance. … the theory is if you address the housing issue, you have more success addressing the other issues. It has been demonstrated to be successful.
Mr. O’Keefe makes the point that the problems are not new but that they moved with the people to the two locations.
These are people — 3 months ago, 6 months ago, who were living on the streets. The emergency detox and law enforcement those issues have been before us … now they have some support services on site.
But do we have the time?
Mr. O’Keefe said the homeless constitute “a close-knit community” that pretty much know each other. “When one person is fortunate enough to get housing it is not uncommon for friends to want to follow them there or to invite them to share in their good fortune.”
Some people are more inclined than others to accept help. That takes time.
The City of Madison, Dane County and the federal government paid for the housing, which qualifies for federal Section 8 subsidies, meaning residents pay no more than 30% of their income for rent, if they have any income.
Residents can get basic furnishings if they do not have their own. Each building contains a wellness center, library, technology center, bike storage and garden and teaching kitchen, as well as office space for supportive services.
Blaska’s Bottom Line: But no on-site police officer.