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Crowley Approves Funding for Franklin Affordable Housing

June 17, 2024

The county has officially put its support behind a new affordable housing development in Franklin.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley signed legislation Monday awarding $2.5 million to a 50-unit affordable housing project for adults — 18 years and older — with disabilities. The county funding comes by way of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and will support the creation of 12 units of affordable housing with around-the-clock supportive services.

The non-profit Communities of Crocus (COC) is developing the $37 million project at 7521 S. 31st St. in Franklin. The county executive’s office held a signing ceremony at the future site, which is currently vacant and undeveloped. Directly east of the site are the Statesman Apartments, which were built in 2019. It is near Northwestern Mutual’s Franklin corporate campus and a number of retail businesses and restaurants along S. 27th Street.

The nonprofit was founded by two mothers of adult children with autism and down syndrome, with a goal to create more housing options for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Franklin development is the organization’s first project. Construction is expected to begin in spring of 2025.

Once fully financed, the project will be developed in phases. First, three care homes providing 12 units of supportive housing and a center with programming and services will be built. The second phase includes the construction of a 32-unit apartment building, which will also provide supportive services but will be available to adults who don’t need as much support as their neighbors in the care homes.

In May, Bader Philanthropies announced it was committing $450,000 toward the project.

“Affordable housing doesn’t just have to be within the city of Milwaukee or urban areas, affordable housing is affecting communities all across this country, quite frankly,” Crowley said. “And we know that we need more affordable housing units, particularly for people with disabilities and our seniors in places like the city of Franklin.”

During Crowley’s first term, his administration created a $15 million fund for affordable housing projects in suburban communities using federal ARPA funding. The primary policy goal is to create more choices and opportunities for working families concerning where they can live.

The county executive said municipal workers across the county — like firefighters, police and public works employees — sometimes cannot afford to live in the communities where they work.

“I’m a county executive, and I can’t afford to live in some of these communities, just to put that in perspective,” Crowley said.

In late 2023, the Village of Whitefish Bay put the brakes on an affordable housing project that had financial backing from the county. One of the village trustees who supported the project, Raisa Koltun (also former chief of staff to County Executive Chris Abele) took a similar line, pointing out that the village was not always an affordable option for some of the educators and municipal employees that worked there.

The Whitefish Bay project was the first county-backed affordable housing project in a suburb that faced pushback from a local municipality.

The county faced significantly stiffer opposition to suburban affordable housing projects in the past, which Crowley called “a lot of NIMBYism.” He said the Franklin project had the support of City of Franklin Mayor John Nelson and Sup. Steve Taylor.

In the past, Franklin has proven a challenging community to develop affordable housing projects in, with neighbors “causing a stink” and a lack of support from local elected officials, Taylor said. The COC project was an opportunity to “right a wrong,” he said.

“And there was no way in hell I was going to allow it to fail, because the time is now for Franklin to join the rest of Milwaukee County and build affordable housing,” he said.

In the past, Mayor Nelson was among those opposing affordable housing in Franklin. As recent as 2022, Nelson, then an alderman, opposed an affordable housing project being planned by Horizon Development Group, Inc. The project, lacking support in Franklin City Hall, never moved forward.

“The difference is that this is a 50-unit complex for adults with special needs. That’s 100% the difference,” Nelson said when asked why his approach to the two projects differed.

Nelson and other speakers noted that the future residents of the COC development will likely include many current residents of Franklin. Amy Hansel, COC president and cofounder, also made this point.

” I think it’s important to understand that these individuals are residents of their communities right now, they’re citizens. They are the same as the individuals that live [across the street] at the Statesman apartments,” Hansel said. “We just need support, and we found that support with Mayor Nelson and the city of Franklin.”