Villard Avenue makes room for multigenerational families

Apartment living is new for Illysha McCroy. The 42 year old has always lived in single family housing and is still getting used to her new 3-bedroom place on Villard Avenue.

But she couldn’t be happier. Her new corner unit, which overlooks the busy street, is clean, safe and secure, all elements she didn’t have before and ones that she values the most. McCroy was one of hundreds affected by the Milwaukee floods in 2010 and was forced to leave her old home because of the health risks it posed to her and her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 7, for whom she has full custody.

"Because I’m a single parent and a single grandparent, I’ve always had trouble sleeping because I’m the protector of the house," she said. "I feel real protected here."

McCroy is one of 21 tenants that have moved in to the Grandfamily Project, a $10 million mixed-use building developed by the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation and Gorman & Co. that includes a library branch on the ground floor and three floors of affordable housing for adults and their grandchildren.

The project is the first of its kind in Wisconsin and meets two needs in the northwest side community – a new library and affordable housing for a new demographic that is becoming more commonplace. The old Villard Square library, built in 1968 and located down the street, was outdated and costly to run. It was slated to be closed in 2003 and again in 2009, but both times the community rallied behind it with the Northwest Side CDC actively engaged in its preservation. As many as 20,000 grandfamilies are estimated to live in Milwaukee County. Grandfamily housing is new to Wisconsin but the concept is becoming more common nationwide. Boston, Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis are among the cities that have created such specialized multigenerational housing.

What makes the Grandfamily Apartments so special is not simply the comingling of a library and apartment building. It is the creation of a mini community that provides stability not only to the families that live there but the street on which they reside. The four-story building caters to the needs of older adults who care for young children and that is reflected in the design. In addition to offering a nearly 13,000-square-foot library on the ground level, the complex also offers a salon, fitness room, movie theater, community room, business center and rooftop patio and play area. Grandfamily Apartments offers 47 units ranging from one- bedroom to three-bedroom apartments with walk-in closets, washers and dryers and 12-foot ceilings.

Jewish Family Services, a Milwaukee social service agency, offers onsite resources and activities ranging from parenting classes to tutoring. McCroy recently attended a session on breast cancer awareness and looks forward to future events and future trips to the library with her grandchildren.

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Funding needs:

$250 or more will help the agency work with residents, many of whom do not have checking or savings accounts, to improve their financial literacy skills.