In a Nutshell
What: In partnership with Cinnaire Solutions, community-based nonprofit 30th Street Industrial Corridor is renovating 18 single-family homes and duplex buildings in the Garden Homes neighborhood to preserve the historic structures, increase the supply of affordable housing in the community, and lay the foundation for additional investments in community revitalization in the years ahead.
Location: Milwaukee (Garden Homes)
Cost: $8.4 million
Sources of Funding/Financing: IFF loan, Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago AHP grant sponsored by IFF, Low Income Housing Tax Credits via the Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), City of Milwaukee HOME funds, Strong Neighborhoods Challenge Fund grant, American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)
IFF Support: $5.5 million loan closed in August 2022 for construction and permanent financing
IFF Staff Lead: Stephanie Socall, Managing Director of Lending, Affordable Housing
Design: SchultzWerk Architecture, Inc.
General Contractor: BCM, LLC
Impact: Creation of 24 units of quality housing affordable to residents earning 30-60 percent of the Area Median Income.
“There’s a lot of talking in Milwaukee, there are a lot of studies, and there’s a lot of planning, but we actually have to move the needle,” says Cheryl Blue, executive director of 30th Street Industrial Corridor, a nonprofit that supports economic and community development in a cluster of neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s north side. “Housing is the key component to living a prosperous life, and it’s going to have a huge impact to bring the Garden Homes back.”
Formed in 1991 to combat the loss of manufacturing jobs in a community that once played an outsized role in bolstering Milwaukee’s reputation as the “machine shop of the world,” the organization Blue leads has been the driving force in recent years in developing and advancing a plan to bring new life to “The Corridor.”
Central to this vision is the revitalization of the housing stock in the area, beginning with an $8.4 million project to renovate 18 single-family homes and duplex buildings in a historic district known as Garden Homes. By year’s end, the buildings will offer 24 units of quality rental housing affordable to tenants earning 30 to 60 percent of the Area Median Income – ranging in size from one to five bedrooms – that are collectively designed to anchor additional investments in community revitalization in the years ahead.
And while the project – which is being developed by 30th Street Industrial Corridor in partnership with Cinnaire Solutions – is designed to position the broader community area for the future, it’s also taking the neighborhood back to its roots.
Preserving the historic character of a groundbreaking neighborhood
Developed in the early 1920s as the nation’s first municipally sponsored housing cooperative, the Garden Homes were designed to provide working class Milwaukeeans with quality, affordable housing amid a population boom driven by rapid growth in the city’s manufacturing sector. Though the novel cooperative model established for the Garden Homes quickly disintegrated in a flurry of financial disputes, the project did succeed in expanding the supply of affordable housing in one of the city’s manufacturing strongholds by building 93 single-family homes and duplexes fanning out around a central greenspace. As industrial giants like the A.O. Smith Corporation, Badger Meter, and Briggs & Stratton thrived, additional housing in the immediate area soon joined the Garden Homes to support the local workforce.
The people are the major asset in the neighborhood, with many having spent 50 years here fighting to make things better, so centering them as part of the process to re-envision and engage in redeveloping our community was our priority.
Initially populated primarily by white residents, by 1960 the corridor had become an oasis for Black Milwaukeeans drawn to the city during the Great Migration by high-paying factory jobs and the availability of quality, affordable housing nearby. So much so, in fact, that the area once boasted the highest standard of living for Black Americans in the entire country, according to Blue. As manufacturing declined in later years and jobs became less plentiful, however, the Garden Homes and the infrastructure of the surrounding area deteriorated in a spiral of disinvestment fueled in part by Milwaukee’s status as one of the most segregated cities in the United States.
What remained was a core group of residents with deep roots in the Garden Homes neighborhood and an intense desire to preserve its historic character and social fabric. Years spent working to stave off proposals to demolish the Garden Homes while strengthening the community culminated between 2016 and 2018 with a focused effort coordinated by 30th Street Industrial Corridor to develop a strategic action plan designed to holistically revitalize the neighborhood.
“The people are the major asset in the neighborhood, with many having spent 50 years here fighting to make things better, so centering them as part of the process to re-envision and engage in redeveloping our community was our priority,” says Blue. “We brought together more than 200 residents and 50 different entities and went through a process over the course of a year to engage all of the stakeholders in developing a strategy that included a plan for the Garden Homes.”
Taking the community’s vision from concept to reality
From there, the nonprofit embarked on the complex task of securing the funding and financing needed to bring the Garden Homes project to fruition, spending the better part of the next three years assembling the capital stack for the scattered site project and building the relationships necessary to embark on its ambitious plan to save the century-old homes.
“One of the challenges after developing the strategic plan was figuring out how to pull together the money for the Garden Homes project, because this truly wasn’t a deal that made a lot of sense considering only dollars and cents,” says Blue. “But when you considered the neighborhood, the history, the people, and the impact of a project like this, it was a deal that needed to get done.”
Among the first, and most significant, wins was the nonprofit’s successful application to the Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) for 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) for the project. LIHTCS can be difficult to attain for scattered site housing projects, but they are highly effective tools when trying to preserve the character of a historic neighborhood like Garden Homes and ensure that existing residents can access quality affordable homes in their own community.
Connecting past and present development efforts on Milwaukee's North Side
IFF has provided permanent financing to four previous single-family rehab projects led by Gorman & Company. These projects pioneered the use of LIHTCs to revitalize vacant homes in the area. Gorman & Company’s Wisconsin Market President, Ted Matkom, serves as the board chair for 30th Street Industrial Corridor. Matkom also provided crucial support in 30th Street Industrial Corridor’s successful application for LIHTCs for the Garden Homes project, which was the first major step toward closing financing for the project.
Equally important in making the project a reality was 30th Street Industrial Corridor’s decision to partner with Cinnaire Solutions, the in-house development group for Cinnaire, which is the syndicator and investor for the LIHTCs. After a partnership with another developer fell through, working with Cinnaire Solutions has provided 30th Street Industrial Corridor with the financial backing and comprehensive support of a large affordable housing developer with experience developing scattered site projects using LIHTCs.
Cinnaire Solutions played a pivotal role helping the community-based nonprofit secure the final few sources of funding needed to close the project, including an AHP grant through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago that was sponsored by IFF and a $5.5 million IFF loan that provided construction and permanent financing for the revitalization of the Garden Homes. That capital, along with the equity from the LIHTCs, City of Milwaukee HOME funds, a Strong Neighborhoods Challenge Fund grant, and American Rescue Plan Act dollars, enabled construction to begin last August after the 18 tax-foreclosed buildings being redeveloped were acquired from the City of Milwaukee for one dollar.
“It’s not always easy to find a lender for these types of scattered site projects, and IFF has been an amazing partner throughout a long process that has included stops and starts as several challenges have arisen,” says Nicole Solheim, Cinnaire’s vice president for development. “And by serving as the AHP sponsor too, IFF played a crucial role in getting the financing to the finish line.”
Now that construction is underway, Cinnaire Solutions continues to work closely with 30th Street Industrial Corridor to help the organization gain practical development experience it can leverage for future projects in the corridor. This support has included managing construction draws and ushering plans for 11 of the homes through a review process with the city’s historic commission to gain approval to restore their exteriors to a state resembling their original stucco, Colonial Revival design, while transforming the interior of the houses to serve as quality homes for residents for decades to come.
Getting families into the renovated houses is going to bring new energy to the neighborhood, and it’s going to be a very visible sign that positive change is happening.
The first of the renovated Garden Homes is expected to be move-in ready next month, with all 24 of the homes on track to open by the end of the year. Once that’s complete, 30th Street Industrial Corridor aims to harness the momentum created by the success of the project to continue redeveloping the Garden Homes neighborhood and working toward the broader revitalization of the corridor. The organization’s current plans include initiatives like establishing a loan fund for emerging developers to build new homes on vacant lots, implementing a co-op model in the Garden Homes neighborhood akin to its original structure to build a sense of ownership among residents, and developing a bike trail that will connect all six neighborhoods in the corridor.
“This process has been all about partnership, and it’s taken a lot of commitment, dedication, and time,” says Blue. “Getting families into the renovated houses is going to bring new energy to the neighborhood, and it’s going to be a very visible sign that positive change is happening. There’s still a long way to go, but this project is going to shift the perception as we continue to push ahead.”