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Committee backs plan for more money for troubled apartment building

MADISON (WKOW) — City officials are taking action to help deal with safety concerns at the Tree Lane housing development in Madison.

“It’s necessary because Tree Lane, what we call Tree Lane, 7933 Tree Lane, is out of control. It’s not a secure building,” said Alder Paul Skidmore. Tree Lane Apartments is in Skidmore’s district.

The finance committee wants to allocate $165,000 of the city’s contingent reserve fund for additional security at the apartment building.

City officials hope the infusion of cash will help stabilize the facility.

Skidmore says the money should be used to hire an overnight security guard during the work week and 24/7 security on the weekend.

“So the net effect is that there would be somebody there 24/7, throughout the week and additionally there would be a second officer overnight during the week and all day on Saturday and Sunday. Currently the situation is there is one officer that’s there 24/7, which is provided by Heartland (Alliance Housing),” he continued.

Mayor Paul Soglin balked at the notion the city is wasting taxpayer money for private security for the company that manages the complex – Chicago-based Heartland Alliance Housing.

“You’ve gotta remember, it’s a partnership with the city. It’s a private company, it is a non-profit. Heartland is a non-profit. they, like others work in this area, are doing an extraordinary job in working with some of the families in our area who’ve had the greatest challenges with chronic homelessness. Usually chronic homelessness that derives from other issues.” Soglin said.

“We’ve got an enormous investment, $10 or $11 million between Heartland and us. We asked them to do something that was very extraordinary, which was to take on some of the most challenging families, in regards to homelessness. And given the importance of this program, given the important to the safety of the neighborhood, and given the future of our Housing First program, I think this is a reasonable investment,” he said.

Since the housing development opened last year, police have been busy responding to dozens of calls.

“We knew that these were families that have challenges. And they’re coming from a situation of not having a home to live in, so we knew that there would be a certain number of challenges. We didn’t realize there would be this significant,” Skidmore said.

“Heartland indicated that there is typically a state of euphoria, when somebody goes from the state of homelessness to having a home, it takes a while for them to calm down. So we knew that it would take a while. While Heartland said 90 days, there was no let up. We still have a lot of calls. That’s when we started to realize the concerns,” he continued.

According to police reports, another housing development managed by Heartland received more police calls between June 2018 and Dec 2018 but Tree Lane has received much more scrutiny.

The neighborhood around Tree Lane Apartments is an established, residential neighborhood that has some residential businesses. According to Skidmore, it was a very stable neighborhood until the facility was built.

“So now the surrounding neighborhoods are experiencing a variety of problems. Retail theft, loitering, trespassing, and other types of problems, assaults in the surrounding businesses. You don’t see that in the other Rethke,” he said.

Soglin attributes much of the problems at Tree Lane Apartments to people who don’t live in the building.

“It’s people who are visiting some of the tenants,” he said.

Skidmore said families who exhibit bad behavior can be evicted from the building.

“Heartland has identified some families. I don’t know how many have been identified. But I know several families have been contacted and have been given notice that their behavior is unacceptable and that they were asked to change. Some families changed, some did not. There are some active evictions actions that are being taken. Some families have moved voluntarily rather than be evicted and some are in the process of being evicted for behavior or for non-payment,” Skidmore said.

“Four families have left the site who were very difficult to work with and weren’t cooperating with management,” Soglin said.

According to Skidmore, Heartland has made some security upgrades to address safety concerns.

“They did increase their budget by about $81,000 to provide for the additional security during the day and some gap security. They have taken steps to better secure the doors so that people are not coming in and out. They are tightening up their protocols.”

Skidmore said himself and police officials floated the idea of having armed guards at the site.

“Both the Madison Police Department and I suggested that the guards be armed, the private security guards be armed. That is supported through a state statute that’s a put it through licensing through the Department of safety and protective services. There are many private security guards in different agencies in Madison and throughout Wisconsin that are armed and provide services very safely and in a professional manner. The mayor, and his staff, and Heartland housing refused to accommodate that. They said no way will there be armed security in Tree Lane. Which we disagree with, but that was a non-starter, non-negotiable for the mayor,” Skidmore said.

“Therefore there was none. I amended the mayor’s proposal to make sure that all of the money goes strictly to security and that we leave the option open that if additional security is necessary, armed security, that some of the funds could be used for overtime to bring in Madison police officers who would be armed,” he continued.

If approved by the full council, the additional $165,000 will cover security for all of 2019. However, Skidmore said the city will not have to spend the entire amount if the situation at tree lane stabilizes before the end of the year.

David Johnson

Reporter, WKOW

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