Mayor Paul Soglin says collaborative efforts made between the City and partner agencies have improved conditions at the Tree Lane transitional housing apartments on Madison’s far west side, which have been the subject of much scrutiny amid concerns of security and crime.
“A lot of the problems that we saw were created by visitors and people coming to the properties,” Soglin said.
Soglin held a press conference Thursday afternoon along with Deputy Mayor Gloria Reyes, Police Chief Mike Koval, Ninth District Alder Paul Skidmore, Community Development Staff, The Road Home Case Manager Belinda Richardson, and Oakbridge Neighborhood Association President Abigail Darwin.
“I think we need to understand that with limited resources the parties involved are doing the best they could,” Soglin said.
He also stated community organizations such as The Road Home and YWCA have been a tremendous help, often not receiving the credit they deserve. The contract with the YWCA expired March 15. Soglin continued to say the development of the Tree Lane community has been a challenging but rewarding experience. The neighborhood saw a spike in service calls to police initially after the opening, from about three calls a month to more than 10. However, Koval said the efforts made by all stakeholders have helped.
Reyes, who has spent time on the site over the last four months, said the City was able to speak with tenants and stakeholders to make changes that were fair for residents. Changes to the guest policy included increasing the number of guests allowed to a maximum of four and extending the time guest were allowed from 10:00 p.m. to midnight. Reyes said tenants felt the original policy felt restrictive and wanted to ensure residents felt listened to.
“I am still there and I really feel that with the changes in security and management, like we’re in a good place now,” she said.
Soglin said only two families have been evicted, and Tree Lane has great tenants overall. He also stated tenants have said that tenants believe the emphasis on calls to police are unfair, especially since the rates of calls have declined. Soglin said the problems were due to very few troublemakers who were visiting the properties, and that some were abusers attempting to reach women in the apartment.
“Under no circumstances do we wish to separate these women from their housing,” Soglin said.
Chief Koval said the issues of the development are complex and the police cannot handle them alone. He explained how and collaboration have yielded some promising results. Koval stated a lot of lessons have been learned and constructively embraced.
Soglin also reiterated this point, acknowledging the experts and community resources contributing to the development of the Tree Lane community. The City has worked alongside community partners to implement the strategies within the abatement plan.
“We’re happy with the intentionality of what Heartland’s done with its residence manager,” Koval said.
The Road Home Dane County have also stepped in to provide families with a variety of programming throughout the spring and also have to work with kids. Soglin said The Road Home offers cultural programming and opportunities middle-class residents often take for granted that working families do not always have access to.
“This is actually our first full week there without the Y [YWCA] and I think it has been going smoothly,” Richardson said.
She said the residents and Heartland have welcomed The Road Home staff, allowing them to begin building relationships with families living in the community including enlisting peer support to work specifically with youth. The Road Home will continue to provide support and resources to Tree Lane tenants. Richardson said the staff is typically available on site each day from around 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Reyes and Soglin both said the residential communities surrounding Tree Lane have been very supportive of the families living there. Darwin said the neighborhood has stepped up since day one.
“I’m not sure our efforts have been publicized in the media as much as they probably deserve. We have a lot of neighborhood residents that volunteer, not just for tutoring but taking the families out and bonding with them,” she said.
Darwin said the residents would like to do more but those who have lived in the neighborhood have asked the stakeholders repeatedly what resources can they provide their new neighbors but have not heard back. She also said hearing opinion pieces that repeatedly criticize the neighborhood’s actions and calls them racist are hurtful.
Darwin said this could not be further from the truth and that the community wants to support the new Tree Lane families which she said were their primary concern. She said the issue is not “us versus them” and that the new Tree Lane residents are part of their community.
“We are also more concerned with the crime occurring at Tree Lane, especially in light of the number of children that live there,” Darwin said.
Soglin said creating affordable housing opportunities in Madison is more than just about development and building homes but will require support to be involved to sustain successful communities. The City hopes to fill the experiential gap in Madison for low-income families which Soglin says are cultural experiences including activities such as dancing, event, and additional community programming. He also stated that about 800 families have been placed in houses throughout the city since Tree Lane.
“We have a significant population with special needs and we knew there would be challenges,” Alderman Skidmore said.
Deputy Mayor Reyes will continue to spend time at the Tree Lane site and work with families, however, as The Road Home takes on a more active role she will begin spending less time there. Soglin said the City will assess the progress in the community in between April 1- 15.