Once again Madison is trying too hard to place a square peg into a round hole. Not only will the fit never be found in this particular case, but the effort and expense in trying makes for frustrations at all levels.
The headlines have been constant concerning the 45-unit, $11.7 million apartment building at 7933 Tree Lane where Madison’s most challenging cases of homeless families have been placed into a large building. How this idea, at the outset, did not alert city official to the problems that now exist is hard to understand. What possibly could go wrong with poverty, mental health issues, drugs, and a bevy of other social issues all placed together and left to simmer? Could there have been any other examples that might have been considered prior to our elected officials casting a vote?
Instead of making for a better situation for the homeless the city instead has created our version of Chicago’s Cabrini–Green Homes. Now when it comes to placing some needed security fixes to the mess the city council blinks and increases their naval gazing.
This week the council totally sidestepped around the issue of extra security—the very first and most obvious need that exists at this site. The council was all giddy to provide more social services for the complex but then voted 12 to 7 against spending $165,000 to make sure safety was dealt with in a manner which the situation requires. It would have taken 15 votes to amend the budget.
It was astounding to read in the newspaper that no discussion was held on either vote. I have watched the council over the years on city cable. Lack of talking is not an issue. As an example, Alderman Larry Palm even when suffering from a head cold, found time to talk and ramble about. Never microphone shy Alderman Mo Cheeks would talk late into the night when most other alders just wanted a motion to cast their vote. But when it came time this week to make sure there were more funds for the security of the building, and hence the surrounding area, one heard only crickets. Yes, your city council at work!
While Mayor Soglin wishes for a re-vote on the security funds that may prove difficult. Soglin is not held in high regard by many on the council. He also has to share the burden of not doing more to fashion something other than our local version of ‘Cabrini–Green’. Finally, from those casting a no vote it may be hard to reason with them about a re-vote, given their politics.
Voting for the $165,000: Alds. Ledell Zellers, Mike Verveer, Marsha Rummel, Steve King, Zach Wood, Paul Skidmore, Allen Arntsen, David Ahrens, Michael Tierney, Samba Baldeh, Keith Furman and Matt Phair
Voting against: Alds. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, Maurice Cheeks, Arvina Martin, Larry Palm, Sheri Carter and Rebecca Kemble
At the outset, some who lived in the area expressed themselves as being very wary of this development. At meetings held prior to city approval homeowners questioned what type of issues might arise with so many homeless people gathered in the units. Due to news stories during 2018 we now know the answer. Gunfire, fights, and other dangerous situations are not uncommon. What these taxpayers who live in the area have every rightful reason to ask is what their home values will look like due to the wrong-headed move by the city to build this 45-unit problem. (As a side note James and I were seriously looking about a decade ago to buying a condo near to this controversial development. We instead moved to the isthmus which we love. But I lived in that neighborhood for five years, know many residents, and can find within myself the anguish they must feel. As a walker there for years I can also relate to the security concerns.)
If it were just for the crime and social service needs this story would be bad enough. But the social service provider is leaving in mid-March, and tax-payers are picking up the tab. The city had to ante up $275,250 for support programming while it seeks proposals from organizations to provide services beyond 2019.
Homelessness is a real problem in urban environments. No is seeking to throw them under the bus. There must be programs and plans to deal with the problem. But moving forward with smart and well-thought out plans is the only way they will benefit. Instead, what now exists at Tree Lane is proving to be what so many predicted.
One might hope that some lessons will be learned from the current mess. However, do not be too ready to think that will be the case. The Tree Lane apartment’s owner and manager is Chicago-based Heartland Housing. The city is taking legal action to address behavior and crime concerns associated with the property. That is a positive move. But that same company is seeking to have another complex approved for Park Street. No one should be willing to think there will not be some in the city who enjoy being burned twice. Or burning more tax payer’s money.
Brenda Konkel, a Madison homeless advocate, who relishes in disruption–she reminds me of Chairman Mao who always thought constant revolution was the way to secure power–can not abide the “nuisance action” which the city is pursuing in the courts. I suspect she will be first in line to strongly endorse any Heartland Park Street project. At the end of the day, however, what she and so many like her can not grasp is that Housing First, while being a very moral and humane idea, can not function without homeless people willing to fully engage in the process. Just putting someone out of the elements does make for success. There needs to be a full commitment from the homeless to receive services and strive to overcome what placed them on the streets in the first place. Taxpayers have done their part. A development on Tree Lane was created (though a wrong policy move) and filled with homeless people.
Now more money is being voted for the project. But not for the security that those in the area who pay the taxes would benefit from. Because by making the building safer it makes the neighborhood safer, too.
And so it goes.