Accessible housing solutions receive Foundation support

Viewing housing as a human right, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and its donors are investing in strategies designed to expand housing options for those who more frequently encounter obstacles to access and affordability.

The Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization that provides programs, advocacy, aging services and fraternal support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. It is currently in the pre-development stages of a housing development that will provide living space for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and those with neurotypical abilities. The development will include commercial space and employment opportunities.

With its North Star aimed at racial equity and inclusion, it made sense for the Foundation to support DSAW’s work.

“There is limited housing for people with intellectual disabilities and sometimes physical disabilities to have affordable housing or affordable units,” said Kermiath McClendon, impact investment manager for the Foundation. “When that proposal came through the door of GMF, I really liked the story and I thought it was something we should invest in to have that equity piece.”

Resources provided by the Foundation include strategic investments and responsive grants authorized by the Board using discretionary resources, as well as grants and co-investments made through the funds of those donors who partner with the Foundation for their philanthropy.

McClendon noted that when it comes to the topic of affordable housing and homeownership, individuals with intellectual disabilities aren’t always at the forefront of the conversation.

Responding to a need

Where once institutionalization was the norm, societal treatment of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities became more dignified over time. In the 1990s, many chose to live with family, and advocacy helped increase awareness that people with IDD have dreams, can hold a job, rent an apartment, drive a car, cook and date – all things neurotypical people do, said Dawn Nuoffer, executive director of DSAW.

However, the waitlist for people with IDD in need of residential services in Wisconsin was at 4,900 in 2019, and it’s continued to grow as more come of age, Nuoffer said, adding that it doesn’t include thousands more who are unregistered and living at home with their families.

“We have a significant housing crisis, that butts up against a caregiver crisis as well,” she said. “If we want people with disabilities to be able to thrive in any type of setting, they just need to have the right support. We as a society need to make sure there’s adequate funding for those supports, whether they need a little of it or a lot of it.”

She continued, “We need more housing units, more innovative solutions, more community response.”

A $75,000 Foundation grant and additional funds from Bader Philanthropies will cover predevelopment costs such as development teams, legal, underwriting, land acquisition, closing costs and other hard and soft costs.

The organization is in the process of scouting out a location for its housing complex, which will have space for 50 to 100 units that are inclusive, integrated, mixed income, mixed demographic and affordable.

Leading with equity ensures diversity

A new development by the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation aims to bring both affordable and market rate housing to an underinvested area of the city. The organization received a $500,000 impact investment loan from the Foundation to cover predevelopment and soft costs for its Five Points Lofts project.

The development will be located in the area of 3317-3349 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. It will have 55 units.  

Nicole Robbins, MLK EDC executive director, said the group’s mission is to ensure residential and commercial health for all residents in the area. In addition to serving a mix of incomes, Five Points Lofts will include space for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, those aging out of foster care and individuals experiencing homelessness.

“We want to make sure that we have quality housing for those who may be underserved and underrepresented as well as those who can fend for themselves,” Robbins said. “People can be exposed to others they may not have typically been exposed to while being able to come to really quality housing and be part of a community that encompasses people from different backgrounds.”The Five Points project is MLK EDC’s seventh development project and first with green space. McClendon noted that the corporation’s work will further revitalize the area as a space abundant in resources for the community, recreational opportunities, entrepreneurship and more.

“It's important to show the diversity of the population that we serve,” Robbins said. “This project will be the most reflective of who we currently work with in the community.”

Revitalizing available resources

HomeWorks: Bronzeville is approaching accessible housing by renovating and revitalizing foreclosed city properties to create live-work spaces for those in the creative community.

Milwaukee-based artists Vedale Hill of Jazale’s Art Studio, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt of I Am Milwaukee and Sara Daleiden of MKE LAX, who is also based in Los Angeles, launched the initiative five years ago.

“The main goal is to develop these live-work places and to solve living displacement and workspace displacement,” Floyd-Pruitt said. “As valuable as just a steady place to live, is a steady foundation to build your practice from, and for that space to become associated with you and that network of creatives.”

The group’s first completed property, 2408 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave., was originally a duplex and is now a studio, gallery and single-family home, where Hill creates and shows work and lives with his family.

Through an anonymous fund at the Foundation, a donor recommended a grant of $100,000 to HomeWorks in May 2021.

One show of support can be pivotal and garner more investment, Floyd-Pruitt said.

“I hope in the long term it can be a signal to folks who have the money to contribute to step out of their comfort zone when giving,” he said. “If you don’t fund the innovation, then you know you’re not contributing to solving certain problems.”

The anonymous donation, in addition to the City of Milwaukee’s Art and Resource Community Hub Loan program, helped the group acquire several properties, complete property renovations on the initial property and prepare for future renovations.

For Hill, who spent most of his life renting and who grew up in extreme poverty, owning a home is beneficial in a multitude of ways.

“One of the major things it does is take my expenses down in life. To own is less expensive - you’re more responsible, but you have less financial burden,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just very difficult to invest time and energy into spaces and make them valuable, and you can take none of that value with you, none of it transfers. As an owner, I don’t have to stress about that as much or at all. It takes so much weight off of me, and I can focus on my craft and my family rather than my housing – that alone is worth it.”

With one property complete, HomeWorks: Bronzeville is preparing to renovate its current properties and procure 10 to 15 more. The plan is to create a place for more artists to live and build their businesses.

“Artists and creatives often thrive being in proximity together. Our model is a cluster model. We work on rehabbing a set of properties nearby. They don’t always have to be right next door to each other,” Daleiden said. “Having an intermittent presence of artists and creatives is what we’re looking for.”

The HomeWorks: Bronzeville model incorporates economic development intent with social and cultural intent, Daleiden said. When artists have access to housing that’s sustainable, they’re more likely to feel secure and take risks to grow their business. This in turn can boost Milwaukee’s art market, ensure that cultural capital remains here and make Milwaukee more attractive to other artists.

“When an individual’s financial situation is sustainable, it is a different feeling, it’s a different interaction," Hill said. “If we can change that, one house at a time, one business at a time, one person at a time, we really can change the whole word.”