Home / News / LocalRSS Feed
Jewish Family Services seeks to 'develop its own housing'
January 18th, 2008
Milwaukee’s Jewish Family Services will be making “a major policy change” — if a state agency approves a federal tax credit.
“Although we provide social services in buildings owned by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation that house elderly people, like Golda Meir House and the Surlow Apartments, JFS has never before developed its own housing for our clients,” said Sylvan Leabman, JFS president/CEO.
The agency will be taking that leap this year, provided that the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) in April approves a tax credit to help fund the project.
The JFS board of directors on Jan. 7 approved sending in the application to WHEDA, which is due by Feb. 1, Leabman said.
The proposed facility is being called Deerwood Crossing. It is intended to be a “Residential Care Apartment Complex” (RCAC) that will contain about 66 apartments, mostly one- and two-bedroom, with a few “junior one-bedroom” units.
In a telephone interview last week, Leabman said this project is intended to provide affordable housing with services for low-to-moderate income elderly people, Jewish and non-Jewish.
“For the last five years, we have had a major expansion of clients who are older adults over 60 and who are enrolled in Milwaukee County’s Family Care program, which is for poor seniors who need assistance, who can no longer live completely independently,” Leabman said.
“For the last couple of years,” he said, “many of our clients have asked us to help them find affordable housing, in a building in which, when they need services like cleaning and food, they have options.”
Then “about a year-and-a-half ago,” said Leabman, JFS officials became aware of Section 42 of the federal tax code, which provides tax credits for the construction of housing for low-income people.
Leabman said Wisconsin receives “about $10 million a year” for these tax credits, which WHEDA administers. He said JFS is seeking $7.5 million in tax credits, which it would then sell to investors or large corporations for anywhere from 89 to 92 cents per dollar. The purchasers would receive a reduction in their federal taxes, and JFS would hope to receive about $6.6 million in cash, Leabman said.
JFS officials visited and studied other Section 42-funded projects around the city, Leabman said. In November 2006, the JFS board held a half-day retreat to discuss the possibility of developing the project and authorized research into its feasibility, Leabman said.
In spring 2007, JFS mailed survey forms to Milwaukee-area Jewish adults older than 65 and their adult children. “We asked them whether they thought this kind of facility is needed for them or their parents, and if so, what kind of services would they like to have in this kind of complex,” said Leabman.
According to a report dated July 2007, which Leabman furnished to The Chronicle, about 870 survey forms were mailed. The response rate was 28 percent, “which is very high … especially considering the length of the survey,” according to the report.
Of that group, 54 percent of the seniors and 79 percent of the adult children preferred a “retirement community with assisted living services” — a much higher proportion than wanted any of the suggested alternatives (condominium, house, rental apartment).
JFS has a location picked out for the facility, the site of an old Kohl’s food store on N. Sherman Blvd. and W. Bradley Rd. in Brown Deer.
Leabman said the Brown Deer Village Board, at its meeting scheduled for Jan. 21, will consider and likely approve an option for JFS to purchase the land and the development agreement for the project.
The village board on Dec. 3 approved the concept of the project, based on the recommendation of the village Plan Commission, according to the Dec. 4 North Shore Now.
Leabman said the land is owned by the village’s community development authority, and that the land comes under a “planned development zoning,” which allows construction of a facility like this without rezoning the land.
He also said that no opposition from residents has surfaced at the public meetings about the project.
Leabman said this first construction could be only “phase one” of the project. This phase, he said, is estimated to cost $9.9 million, of which the tax credit, if approved, would provide about 60 percent. The rest would come from “loans and donations,” he said.
JFS itself would not administer the project, Leabman said. Instead, the social service agency is in the process of creating a non-profit corporation, JFS Housing Inc.
This organization will sign the agreements with Brown Deer, repay the loans involved in financing the project, and hire a facility manager and a food service provider.
JFS would provide case management services within the building and help obtain kosher food for those who desire it, Leabman said.
However, one need not be a JFS client to live in the facility, he said.
Despite all the plans, whether this project will go ahead depends on WHEDA’s approving the grant of the tax credit in April. Leabman acknowledged that this process is “very competitive and difficult.”
However, “we believe our application is very strong and we are hopeful.”
In fact, JFS already has a waiting list of about 34 individuals who would like units in this planned facility, Leabman said.
Should the tax credits be approved, Leabman said the first construction could be completed and open by the summer of 2010.
To learn more about the Deerwood Crossing project, call JFS, 414-390-5800, and ask for the Older Adult Services Department.