Cream City Hostel switching to cooperative housing

Building owners receiving loan from Bader Philanthropies

Cream City Hostel. Photo courtesy of Bader Philanthropies Inc.
The former Cream City Hostel. Photo courtesy of Bader Philanthropies Inc.

Last updated on December 10th, 2020 at 01:44 pm

Cream City Hostel, Milwaukee’s first hostel, will now become the city’s first housing cooperative.

The building at 500 E. Center St., on the edge of the Harambee and Riverwest neighborhoods, will begin its transformation in January to a housing co-op, building ownership group RiverBee LLC announced today.

The building is expected to reopen in the spring or summer.

The cooperative tenant housing model offers an intentional living community that supports people dealing with losses and uncertainty such as jobs, instability and landlord issues, according to a news release.

Cream City Hostel was created with the goal of bringing more tourists into the community to help local businesses. Since its opening in June 2019, it hosted thousands of tourists from more than 38 countries.

But COVID-19 forced the hostel to close its doors earlier this year. And with less than a year after the building opened as a hostel, RiverBee decided to pivot to cooperative housing for area residents.

RiverBee said it is staying true to its original vision of community empowerment even though it is changing course with the building’s use.

“The beauty of this pivot is that the project will stay true to our original vision of this work, which was to collectively empower the community, ourselves and each other to make our lives and neighborhoods better,” Juli Kaufmann, managing member of RiverBee and president of Milwaukee-based Fix Development, said in a statement. “We are proud to continue to create a safe and diverse place to bring the community together.”

The hostel’s transformation is being supported with a $450,000 program-related investment loan (PRI) from Milwaukee-based Bader Philanthropies Inc.

The low-interest loan will replace two bank mortgages and allow RiverBee to restructure debt payments to account for the current economic situation due to the pandemic.

“Bader Philanthropies supports RiverBee and this trailblazing concept which addresses a critical community issue – access to affordable housing,” said Daniel Bader, president and chief executive officer of Bader Philanthropies, said in a statement. “We recognize that this is a time when we can make a real difference in the lives of people who need many things, including our community members who are looking for an affordable alternative to renting.”

The PRI is part of nearly $9.5 million in grants recently awarded by Bader Philanthropies to support 134 organizations serving about 280,000 people across the state, country and internationally.

The neoclassical brick building was built in 1927 to house the Holton Street State Bank. The bank closed in 1960, and in later years the building was used by groups including the Boys & Girls Clubs, Centro Del Nino and a charter school before becoming vacant in 2006.

RiverBee convened more than 40 local investors to purchase the building and turned it into the Cream City Hostel last year. Most of the investors are from the Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods. Kaufmann led the $1 million project, partnering with Riverwest residents Wendy Mesich and Carolynn Weber.

As cooperative housing is not yet common in Milwaukee, RiverBee is looking to partner with experienced groups that can help recruit interested occupants and guide the formation of the cooperative.

RiverBee initially partnered with Milwaukee Area Cohousing and is now seeking people interested in becoming members of the co-op.

The investors group expects that local residents will be looking for affordable housing next year due to the COVID-19 related eviction moratorium ending on Dec. 31.

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Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.

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