MADISON — Police calls to a Far West Side apartment building for formerly homeless families have dropped significantly following measures to address behavior problems at the residence.
City officials say the drop in police calls to the building 7933 Tree Lane — down from a high of about 90 in December to about 30 last month — is due to an increase of support services, pressure on the building’s owners, and additional staff and security at the building.
Police calls from neighboring residents and businesses have similarly decreased after spiking in December, city officials said at a Thursday news conference.
“A lot of lessons have been learned and constructively embraced,” said Madison Police Chief Mike Koval. “I think that as we move forward, we’re encouraged by the trajectory of what’s occurred there.”
The 45-unit, $11.7 million apartment was built to house some of Madison’s most challenged homeless families. The Tree Lane project is Madison’s second experiment with a Housing First approach to homelessness, which focuses on getting homeless people into housing and then offering them services to address mental illness, drug addiction and other problems.
After it opened in June, the building and surrounding area was dogged by police calls for fights, gunshots and other disturbances.
While only a few people — often visitors — were responsible for most of the problems, poor management and a lack of security worsened behavior problems when the building opened, said Mayor Paul Soglin.
“Right off the bat we started seeing some problems,” he said. “In retrospect, as we look back, one of the things that we did was take too ambitious of an approach ... in terms of housing families with the most chronic needs.”
To address the problems, the Madison City Council recently approved proposals to spend $145,000 to boost security at the building in addition to $275,250 for support programming.
“We’ve already seen improvement,” Soglin said. “We expect that as we go into the summer and fall that that improvement will continue and some of the panicky responses of the winter will dissipate.”
The city also pursued a chronic nuisance action against Heartland Housing, which owns and manages the building.
Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy said so far Heartland has met its requirements to avoid further action from the city.
Some problem residents have also been evicted, Soglin said.
New policies, services
The money to support programming will be used while the city seeks proposals from organizations to provide services beyond 2019. The Road Home Dane County will provide case management, and Lussier Community Education Center and Wisconsin Youth Company—Elver Park Neighborhood Center will offer youth programming.
The Road Home has five staff members working on case management and with the apartment’s approximately 100 youths, said Road Home program coordinator Belinda Richardson.
The Road Home took over providing support services from the YWCA Madison last week, she said.
Other changes such as clearer expectations for residents, consistent rule enforcement and a different guest policy have also led to a better experience for residents and neighbors.
Those who live near the Tree Lane project are pleased with the reduced crime in the building and surrounding neighborhood, said Abigail Darwin, president of the Oakbridge Neighborhood Association.
But she said residents, many who have volunteered at the Tree Lane building, would like to do more to make their new neighbors feel more welcome.
“They are part of our community,” Darwin said. “They’re part of our neighborhood.”