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Thursday, November 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 20.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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Occupy Madison's homeless housing project faces pushback over management, development experience
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According to organizers about one-third of the building would be used to house some 20 people.
Credit:Judith Davidoff

Organizers of a proposed homeless housing project on Fordem Avenue are facing pushback over how the facility would be run and managed.

Staff in the Community Development Block Grant office are recommending against (PDF) extending a low-interest loan to Occupy Madison until organizers identify a fiscal agent, determine how the property and tenants will be managed, enlist the help of a consultant who has experience developing housing projects and provide neighborhood feedback.

Critics at a neighborhood meeting Saturday on the project also raised questions about governance and accountability.

"Who determines who gets in there? What management do you have in place?" asked John Fish, who owns land on either side of the proposed project at 2132 Fordem Avenue.

"A lot of people here have absolutely no faith that you can run this properly," another neighbor, who lives 200 yards from the property, told organizers. "What happens if it becomes a nuisance?"

North District Captain Cameron McLay said that police would respond as they do to any risk to public safety. But, he added, "the devil is in the details."

"How this thing is managed on a day-to-day basis will determine [its] success," McLay said.

Organizers acknowledged that their plans are "not all 100% fleshed out," but noted that the facility would be run cooperatively by the members who lived there. A board of governors would ultimately be accountable to the community and responsible for any financial obligations.

In a flier distributed by Occupy Madison, Inc. at the meeting, titled, "OM House, It's going to be different..." organizers explained that "this is not a typical housing project for persons without homes. It is a community and office space with cooperative housing, not a traditional social services program like those that are not working for people."

According to organizers about one-third of the building would be used to house some 20 people; the rest would be used for office space.

Organizers say there are about 400 people in the Madison area who are homeless and, for one reason or another, do not fit into traditional shelter settings. The short-term plan of organizers would be to operate as a mission house where tenants are not charged rent. This is a permitted zoning use. In the long-term the group hopes to be able to offer single-residency occupancy (SRO) units to some 20 to 25 homeless individuals. The group would need to get a zoning change to operate as an SRO.

Occupy Madison, Inc. recently incorporated and is seeking nonprofit status. Made up of volunteers who have been working with homeless individuals who have most recently camped out at Token Creek Park, the group hopes to buy the Fordem Avenue office building. It is hoping to secure $275,000 from the city's affordable housing trust fund to help make about $75,000 in needed renovations to make the building suitable for housing.

But city staff is now recommending that the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) committee, which meets January 17, delay action on Occupy's application until details of the proposal are worked out.

The state report notes the project development group's "very limited experience in housing development or management of affordable housing," "very slim operating budget," lack of a budget for on-site support services and neighborhood concerns about the project.

Staff recommends that the group's application be tabled until the CDBG committee's May meeting to "allow the agency to focus the project purpose and flesh out the related details." The additional material requested is due by April 5.

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