Bethesda Lutheran Communities planning to build apartments for adults with developmental disabilities in Milwaukee

A rendering of the Bethesda Cornerstone Village - Highland housing development. (Rendering: Quorum Architects)

Watertown-based Bethesda Lutheran Communities is moving forward with plans to bring a new model of housing for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to Milwaukee’s near west side, the first of what could be several similar developments in the area.

Bethesda plans to build a 68-unit apartment building at 3200 W. Highland Blvd. that will include units reserved for adults with intellectual and development disabilities and units for seniors.

Bethesda leaders say the integrated housing approach provides a safe home for people with disabilities while also fostering more inclusion in the community.

The $15.7 million project is planned as a 75,000-square-foot building. Thirteen units would be dedicated to adults with intellectual and development disabilities and 55 units would be for seniors aged 55 and above. In total, 62 would be affordable-rate and six would be market-rate units.

Amenities would include a roughly 1,100-square-foot community service facility, community hub, fitness center, green space, walking path and outdoor patio.

The nonprofit organization recently opened its first location using that housing model, called Cornerstone Village, in a Minneapolis suburb.

“There is a real need,” said Tom Campbell, vice president of real estate for Bethesda. “Proof of concept is our Minneapolis project. Our set-aside is filled with people with developmental disabilities. That’s a tier-two suburb there, so we feel just by the very nature of the population where Highland is, we’re going to help.”

Campbell noted that many more new units are needed in Milwaukee to address housing challenges for that population. There are roughly 40,000 adults in Milwaukee County with cognitive disabilities, and based on national research, the majority of those individuals live with an aging parent or guardian, which creates uncertainty related to their future living situation.

The planned Milwaukee development is one of four additional locations Bethesda currently has in the works – including a suburban St. Paul site and two in the Sacramento, California area.

Bethesda is also working with Elm Grove-based Luther Group LLC on another Milwaukee housing development that would include about 100 units. Campbell said the organization has the location under site control but is not yet disclosing it.

“Our goal here is really to roll out multiple developments,” Campbell said. “We are working within the metro to create additional housing communities to fill this unmet need. … This concept really allows people with developmental disabilities to live more of an independent lifestyle. These aren’t licensed facilities; these are apartment home communities whereby support services are brought in to allow these individuals to live an independent lifestyle.”

The Cornerstone Village – Highland project was awarded Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority tax credits in April.

Advocate Aurora Health donated the property at 3200 W. Highland, which was formerly its Aurora Family Services building, to Bethesda for the project. Bethesda plans to demolish the building and construct the apartment building on site. Greater Milwaukee Foundation provided a grant for pre-construction expenses.

The Milwaukee Center for Independence is expected to provide services – such as benefits advocacy, employment and skills training, case management and art, music, pet and horticultural therapy – on-site in the new facility.

Bethesda has retained Quorum Architects and Cardinal Capital Management to design and build the building. The organization has also worked with Near West Side Partners on community engagement efforts.

“Cornerstone Village is really about community – community for not jus the residents that live within the housing community itself but also outward facing. So, how can we impact that surrounding neighborhood? We’re looking for partners,” Campbell said.

Bethesda plans to open the Highland facility in spring 2022.

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