Photograph of two 3-story mixed-use buildings.
Photograph of three 2-story buildings of attached residential units.
Low-altitude aerial photograph of Westlawn Gardens showing the midrise buildings at the top center and smaller residential buildings in the center; the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center and Browning Elementary School are on the left edge of Westlawn Gardens, and across the street are original Westlawn buildings.
Photograph of the front façades of several two- and three-story residential buildings along a local street.
Photograph of a tree-lined sidewalk where two young girls play in front of a row of houses, several of which have porches.
Photograph of a woman harvesting lettuce in a fenced-in garden, with residential buildings in the background.
Photograph of a landscaped island in an intersection of four streets lined with two- and three-story residences.
Satellite photograph overlain with a conceptual site plan for Westlawn Gardens and subsequent redevelopment phases, including labels identifying major features.

 

Home >Case Studies >Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rebuilding Public Housing and Strengthening a Community at Westlawn Gardens

 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Rebuilding Public Housing and Strengthening a Community at Westlawn Gardens

 

In 1952, the city of Milwaukee opened Wisconsin’s largest public housing development, Westlawn, which consisted of 726 dwelling units in uniform lowrise structures on a 75-acre site in the northwest of the city. Six decades later, with the original buildings too distressed to justify renovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee is engaged in the comprehensive rebuilding of Westlawn. Occupying a 37-acre superblock, the redevelopment’s first phase, known as Westlawn Gardens, came online in 2012. Westlawn Gardens is the first step in a broad effort to redevelop a major source of affordable housing in Milwaukee, catalyze the revitalization of the greater Westlawn neighborhood, and eliminate the social and economic hurdles that neighborhood residents face. A participatory planning process, an emphasis on mixed-use and mixed-income development, and improvements to the urban fabric and infrastructure are key strategies in realizing these goals. In 2018, HUD and the American Planning Association awarded Westlawn Gardens the HUD Secretary’s Opportunity and Empowerment Award in recognition of these efforts.

Phase One of a Comprehensive Transformation

Westlawn Gardens is a complete redevelopment of the eastern half of the Westlawn site, from the street layout to the buildings themselves. Westlawn Gardens’ 250 dwelling units consist of 166 units supported by project-based vouchers, 64 units of public housing, and 20 unsubsidized units. Two midrise buildings, one of which is designated for low-income seniors, contain 94 one-bedroom units along with exercise, laundry, community, media, and multipurpose rooms for shared use. These buildings also contain retail space, and each residential unit has a private balcony. The remaining 156 units in Westlawn Gardens have between two and five bedrooms, and all units are accessible or adaptable to accommodate persons with disabilities. These residences are attached units in duplex, townhouse, and other building configurations. The architectural design of the new construction reflects distinctive residential architecture in Milwaukee; this helps to integrate Westlawn Gardens visually into the surrounding community and thereby reduce the stigma of affordable housing.

The site plan of Westlawn Gardens also was influenced by the surrounding neighborhood. The midrise buildings are located on a commercial corridor, whereas the lower-density buildings face new streets that divide the site into walkable blocks that reflect the prevailing pattern in the residential areas adjacent to Westlawn. The revised street pattern increases connectivity to the area road and sidewalk network and, along with front porches on the residences, facilitates an eyes-on-the-street approach to community safety. Green spaces, including a 30,000-square-foot community garden and recreation areas, add to the inviting nature of Westlawn Gardens.

The major sources of funding for Westlawn Gardens were a low-income housing tax credit purchase — the largest in Wisconsin’s history — and a HUD Capital Fund grant. In addition, the Fund for Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District provided $325,000 for a stormwater management system that includes bioswales and other green features that could be deployed in other areas of the city.

Table 1. Financing for Westlawn Gardens

Low-income housing tax credits

$70,920,000

HUD Capital Fund program

11,337,000

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee

1,611,000

Other sources

1,314,000

Total

$85,182,000

Empowering a Community

During an intensive weeklong series of workshops in 2009 and planning meetings over the following 18 months, residents of Westlawn and the surrounding neighborhood, local government officials, members of the business community, and religious leaders helped create a vision for the neighborhood’s redevelopment. Resident engagement continues through the Westlawn Resident Organization, which serves as the forum for community discussions and planning for activities and events. For example, since Westlawn Gardens opened, residents have been developing strategies to improve traffic safety in the neighborhood.

Some of the hopes expressed in the planning meetings — in particular, the desire for a healthy community — influenced the development’s final design in important ways. The community garden, the pedestrian-friendly design, and recreation spaces are the direct result of this participatory process. These and other sustainable features helped the redevelopment earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Neighborhood Development Stage 3 Silver certification, making it the highest-rated project of its kind according to the housing authority. All the residential units were designed to LEED for Homes Platinum standards, the rating system’s highest level, to provide healthy as well as sustainable indoor living environments; as a cost-saving compromise, only one house was nominated for certification, which it received in 2013. The University of Wisconsin College of Nursing echoed community members’ concerns by identifying some of the neighborhood’s most pressing health issues, including asthma. The College of Nursing also spearheaded the creation of the Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment, which through its Healthy Homes program, participated in the construction of 14 units in Westlawn Gardens for residents with respiratory conditions.

Realizing a Neighborhood of Opportunity

The rebuilding of Westlawn augments community infrastructure that has long been providing services to the local area. At the heart of the Westlawn site sits the Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, which shares facilities with Milwaukee Public School’s Browning Elementary. The center provides resources to local children, teens, adults, and families. Offerings include child care and afterschool activities; academic support and antiviolence programs; job readiness training and adult education; and a food pantry and mental health clinic. The Milwaukee Public Library installed an automated kiosk in Westlawn Gardens that allows residents to browse the library’s catalog and check out and return books at any time. The new, more inviting Westlawn Gardens breaks down social barriers and increases the accessibility of these institutions and services for members of the surrounding neighborhood, two of the major goals of the project.

The western half of the Westlawn site and planned infill projects adjacent to Westlawn Gardens will be completed in subsequent phases with a target end date of September 2022. The remaining phases will increase the income diversity of the community, with some units renting at market rate and others available for purchase. Subsequent phases will be stylistically indistinguishable from Westlawn Gardens to ensure continuity and unity and will provide a mix of uses. Additional ground-level retail space will aid the neighborhood’s economic development.

Projects in the surrounding neighborhood undertaken through a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant and money committed by community partner organizations are enhancing the beneficial effects of Westlawn Gardens. For instance, the redevelopment’s new retail spaces are complemented by Choice Neighborhood landscaping and façade improvements for the struggling retail corridor. The Choice Neighborhood initiatives also rely on the active community participation effected at Westlawn. In April 2016, for example, a Westlawn resident and case worker joined Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services staff, police officers, and others on a walk through the neighborhood to identify nuisance properties and code violations and prioritize improvements.

These measures are enhancing the entire community around Westlawn Gardens. Taken by itself, Westlawn Gardens represents a large-scale change to Milwaukee’s affordable housing portfolio. Combined with future phases of redevelopment at Westlawn and the Choice Neighborhoods programs, Westlawn Gardens — with strong public engagement and a health-conscious and socially sensitive design — is a broad commitment to building community opportunity.


 

Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; City of Milwaukee. 2015. “Choice Neighborhoods FY2014 Implementation Grant Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; City of Milwaukee. 2015. “Choice Neighborhoods FY2014 Implementation Grant Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; Joint interview with Warren Jones, vice president of construction, and Paul Williams, Choice Neighborhood Initiative coordinator, Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, 29 May 2018.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; City of Milwaukee. 2015. “Choice Neighborhoods FY2014 Implementation Grant Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; Joint interview with Warren Jones, vice president of construction, and Paul Williams, Choice Neighborhood Initiative coordinator, Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, 29 May 2018; Anne Dressel. 2015. “Community-Engaged Health Research Scientific Focal Area of Excellence, Impact Exemplar: Environmental Health — Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment.” Accessed 20 June 2018.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; Silver Spring Neighborhood Center. “About.” Accessed 18 June 2018; Silver Spring Neighborhood Center. “Programs.” Accessed 18 June 2018.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; City of Milwaukee. 2015. “Choice Neighborhoods FY2014 Implementation Grant Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; Joint interview with Warren Jones, vice president of construction, and Paul Williams, Choice Neighborhood Initiative coordinator, Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, 29 May 2018.

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Source:

City of Milwaukee. 2015. “Choice Neighborhoods FY2014 Implementation Grant Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; Brian E. Clark. 2016. “Choice Neighborhoods: The Revitalization of Public Housing,” On Common Ground (Summer), 20–5.

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Source:

Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee. 2014. “Westlawn Gardens: 2015 Rudy Bruner Award Application.” Accessed 11 June 2018; City of Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, City of Milwaukee, and Havenwoods Economic Development Corporation. 2016. “Milwaukee Choice Neighborhood Critical Community Improvements Plan.” Accessed 11 June 2018.

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