My friend and former colleague, David Blaska, blogging at davidblaska.com, had an interesting connect-the-dots post May 18, which led me to connect a couple dots of my own.
Titled sarcastically “The harsh wages of Madison’s ‘better life’ – so many services, such poor results,” Blaska recounted a news article that appeared in Isthmus 10 years ago.
Detailing a special Madison School District program for homeless children, the story focused on an 8-year-old from Chicago named Treveon, who was living with his grandmother in the Salvation Army homeless shelter.
A school social worker stepped up and got Treveon enrolled in second grade. The social worker outfitted him with clothing school supplies, connected him with counselors to deal with his “multiple behavioral disorders” and eventually found them an apartment.
“‘He’s a different child,’ (the grandmother) says, citing big changes in Treveon’s behavior since (the social worker) stepped in.
“‘I’m grateful to Madison,’ she says. ‘We wouldn’t have this in Chicago.’”
Flash forward 10 years, and Treveon Thurman is back in the news, this time in a newspaper story headlined “Trouble down a one-way street.”
It turns out little Treveon had grown up to be one of the juvenile car thieves preying on Madison.
Chris Rickert reported, “Thurman stands out among alleged offenders in the number of charges against him and for regularly posting photos and videos of his alleged crimes on social media.”
Blaska wrote “Now age 18, Thurman’s record of home invasions and 11 car thefts is impressive.
“We count 29 criminal charges listed on the State circuit court access site! All since last June! The only reason we know about them is because they’re now in adult court. Juvenile records are confidential.”
Blaska’s post also cited a recent news story on the ironically named “Harmony at Grandview Commons” apartment complex, a low-income housing project that opened in March 2019 on the Far East Side.
Madison’s then-Mayor Paul Soglin, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and a host of other dignitaries attended the ribbon-cutting.
Wisconsin Public Radio effusively reported, “The 94-unit complex will have a library, computer lab, fitness center and playground. The $20 million development also has onsite support services like financial training, courses on nutrition and after-school activities.”
There was to be a manager on site, and 24-hour security as well.
“‘Years from now, we’re going to see kids having successful academic and employment careers. We’re going to see healthy outcomes,’ said Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.”
Except … a little more than a year later, the city of Madison has declared the complex a “public nuisance.”
There have been numerous fights, shootings (including a 4-year-old shot in the leg) and noise complaints, most of which required police intervention.
Also, the onsite manager? Not there. The 24-7 security? No.
The library, computer lab and other amenities? Never happened. Neither did the financial literacy classes, the nutrition classes or the after-school activities.
And here’s the “dot” that caught my eye: The developer of the project was Royal Capital Group of Milwaukee, headed by Kevin Newell.
This is the same Kevin Newell who fought hard to build a low-income housing project in Monona, on East Broadway, across from Menard’s and the Meriter health clinic.
Beginning in 2014, Newell presented Monna officials with a series of plans for the site. It was to be one of the trendy “mixed-use developments,” combining retail and residential.
Some apartments were reserved for homeless vets, with the rest for low-income families.
And, of course there would be all kinds of onsite amenities and programs: computer labs, counseling, health and nutrition.
Monona’s then-Mayor Bob Miller was enthusiastic about the project.
The city Plan Commission? Not so much.
Businesspeople on the commission, including former Aldermen Jim Busse and Dennis Kugle, kept raising issues, like not enough parking and where would the children play, and would the children be darting across busy Broadway to buy a bag of Twizzlers at Menard’s?
I remember being cynically amused by one news story, in which Newell said he had contacted the Madison School District about putting in a bus stop and creating after-school programs.
I mean, the guy didn’t even know what school district the project would be in!
I also remember discussing the project with a Monona Grove school official who was privately concerned over the possible effects an influx of 100-plus low-income students would have on our district.
Sometime around 2016, Newell gave up and found another site – and built what would become Madison’s latest public nuisance.
I am not opposed to low-income housing, although I do wonder about this trend toward massive projects. I understand the economics, but I also remember following this debate for decades when the mantra was “scattered site housing.”
I am opposed to developers who take public money (Harmony received $11 million from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority) and then fail to keep their promises to their residents – and the taxpayers.
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