The long vacant Aeroshade lot at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Ellis Street near downtown Waukesha was home to its first sizable gathering in more than seven years on Friday morning when dozens of local officials, developers, volunteers, and affordable housing booster gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County’s 18-lot subdivision.
“The need for affordable housing is tremendous. We are in an affordable housing crisis. A 2018 study, which is four years old now, saw that 30% of households in Waukesha County are at the poverty level, paying more than half of their income towards housing (costs) and struggling to make ends meet. Four years later and after a global pandemic you can imagine is just that more dramatic,” said Melissa Songco, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County. “Single-family home median prices are eclipsing $400,000 in Waukesha County. What happened to starter homes? What happened to the middle class? That is why this project is so important.”
Habitat’s partner on the project is Tarantino & Company (T&Co, LLC), a real estate consulting firm and a sister company of senior living operator, Capri Communities, which has led the development of affordable housing, commercial real estate, student housing and commercial real estate.
Named Domenica Park, after Capri Communities' founder and principal Jim Tarantino’s mother, the development is slated to consist of 16 single-family homes and two duplexes that we would be located closer to Lincoln Street.
[caption id="attachment_547054" align="aligncenter" width="768"] Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County announced plans Thursday to transform a vacant 3.5-acre lot near downtown Waukesha into an 18-lot subdivision. (Rendering courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County)[/caption]
Site work is expected to begin on Monday with foundations of four homes slated to be poured this fall in advance of home construction work beginning next spring. The plan is to construct six of the 18 houses next year, with the remaining 12 being constructed in 2024 and 2025.
Addressing attendees Stephanie Morrison, a single mother of three children, who is one of the eight Waukesha residents on Habitat’s waiting list who have been approved for one of the new homes in the development, called the Domenica Park her light at the end of the tunnel.
“My mom always said, ‘there is a light at the end of the tunnel,’ and I didn’t believe her, but this is the light for me and my kids, and I am super excited to be on this journey with the Habitat community,” Morrison said.
Mayor Shawn Reilly called the day “historic.”
The project has received $2.1 million in government funding, including a $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the city of Waukesha, and $394,000 in Community Development Block Grant dollars from Waukesha County.
‘Field of dreams’
First platted in 1887, the site was long home to the Aeroshade company, which made wooden shades and folding doors in a small factory there. The factory opened in 1915 before any houses had been built nearby, and closed in 2015, 100 years later. The factory was razed in 2017, in hopes of placing homes on the property, but efforts to have the land sold to a private developer fizzled.
Since this project is being pursued by Habitat Waukesha, the homes will be reserved for households earning at or below 80% of Waukesha County’s median income level of $88,985.
Although the neighborhood is largely working class, two-and-three-bedroom homes on surrounding blocks regularly sell for upwards of $250,000.
Tarantino noted that development would help people like his mother Domenica – the daughter of Sicilian immigrants – who are looking to create a better life for themselves and their families.
County Board Supervisor Christine Howard, who lived a block away from the Aeroshade lot on Oakland Avenue as a young girl, recounted how she and her siblings played in the part of lot that wasn’t occupied by the small factory, and for decades served as a de facto park.
“Growing up this was the best, baseball, kickball and dandelion-picking field for kids in our neighborhood … as serving on the (Board of Directors for the) the HOME Consortium since 2012, I am excited to say that this is our largest investment in a project. …Today this field of my childhood is becoming a field of dreams for many people.”