By Rick Romano
We asked local community leaders their thoughts about the recent housing study, a few anticipated developments, school behavioral issues, the city’s adoption of state regulations against feeding of wild animals, and what’s new at the local historical society.
The city’s latest Housing Study & Needs Assessment revealed a number of findings, including the community is getting younger and that, while apartment construction is on the rise, housing options are limited.
Chicago-based SB Friedman Development Advisors completed its study last fall. Results were revealed beginning in early 2023. The company also completed a housing study several years earlier. The comparative information that has been reported includes:
- Wauwatosa’s population increased by 1,747 since 2020, the average age decreased from 40 to 38 since 2016, and those with bachelor’s degrees increased from 54 percent to 59 percent since 2016.
- While household income has increased with a younger population, black and older populations are more likely to fall into the low-income category. Housing is considered affordable if a household spends 30 percent or less of its income on housing-related costs. In Tosa, $44,800 is the minimum household income for affordable rent.
- While average household incomes increased by $14,000 since 2016, home sale value increased by $100,000 since 2016 and rents increased by 29 percent since 2011 and 44 percent in the past two years.
- With most of Wauwatosa’s workforce living outside the city, there is a need for thousands more housing units, most of which are in the multifamily category.
- There is a lack of what is termed Missing Middle Housing, including lower-density multifamily units in the form of townhouses, condominiums, duplexes etc.
- After considering multiple options, the Common Council on April 5 approved a resolution to negotiate with Hausel Lavigne, a Chicago-based community planning and design firm, to develop the next-phase Comprehensive Plan that will incorporate the housing study results.
For a deeper look at the Housing Study and Needs Assessment, go to: www.wauwatosa.net.
“My first reaction to the study is how remarkable it is that we were a community older than the state average in 2016 and now, seven years later, we are younger,” said Mayor Dennis McBride. “Our household wealth and education has gone up. Young families are moving in.”
McBride says the challenges of not having enough condominiums and other types of lower-density housing available to buy or rent are not surprising. He pointed to a new housing market that has been mostly stagnant for the past 15 years across America and the generally “skittish” developers who are more comfortable building apartments than condominiums.
Even so, Wauwatosa, he says, has been a magnet for significant apartment construction like the most recent Mayfair Collection development and others with the intent of providing housing around the community’s easy access to highways and large employers like the Regional Medical Center.
“We have a population of 49,000 that grows to more than 100,000 during the day because of the employers who are attracted to the community,” he said. “Providing more housing opportunities for those who choose to work here is an obvious goal. Tearing down unused property and getting the land cleared for construction is also more expensive. We need to get creative in working with developers.”
District 1 Ald. Andrew Meindl said that while apartments are an effective way to bring younger singles and families into the community, providing next-step affordable buying options is critical. “For the past 50 to 60 years,” Meindl said, “buying a home has been important to building equity. It is getting harder and harder to qualify buying a property because of rising prices as well as paying off student loans that many young professionals have.
“I am looking forward to the next phase of planning from this study and others to come up with a comprehensive plan to address this so that we can continue to attract young families and retain them.” Seniors who own property, he adds, are part of the equation, because their needs to downsize may create opportunities for younger residents.
Speaking of planning ahead, District 6 Ald. Joe Philips said it’s important the city move ahead with the comprehensive plan followed by a zoning code so “we don’t get in the way” of development.
Philips favors identifying growth corridors and, in keeping with a mostly landlocked community, playing “small ball” by working with developers to help appropriately scale their projects.
“We are a diverse community with housing needs for a diverse population,” he said. “There is a constant need for new development. It is an exciting time to be in Tosa.”
District 2 Ald. Margaret Arney was impressed with the study’s outcome, especially the examination of housing supply in light of her involvement in the Equity and Inclusion Commission and Tosa Together, two entities encouraging the community’s diversity.
“We want to do what we can to help developers build the best possible affordable housing for young families,” she said. “Developers are not responsible for creating conditions. We need to create that and set the tone for housing development that will work for a variety of needs. Everything has a level of complexity.”
District 7 Ald. Mike Morgan said some of that complexity may be solved if the city can collaborate with owners to convert some properties, such as traditional upper and lower or side-by-side duplexes into condos. “That’s just one small step, but it can be a beginning toward converting some properties into those needed starter or even retirement homes,” he said. “I see a lot of single-family homes on the city’s west side that are good starter homes,” Morgan continued, “there is a lot of potential. A lot of this is communication.”
Repurposing a property at 7746 Menomonee River Parkway where a previous abandoned building was razed, the city’s Community Development Authority (CDA) was seeking developers to come forward to develop the quarter-acre lot.
At last report in late April, Economic Development Manager Jen Ferguson said the CDA accepted an offer from Wauwatosa’s Galbraith Carnahan Architects. The proposal is to construct four for-sale townhomes on the property.
“We are working through due diligence and negotiating a development agreement (prior to closing),” she said. The completion of the development agreement and final closing, she noted, is anticipated for mid- to-late summer.
The 28-story high rise apartment-retail structure at the southwest corner of Mayfair and Bluemound Roads has stalled, mainly due to opposition from area homeowners. The latest proposal was for a car wash facility, a decided departure from the previous idea.
A car wash may not be as unusual as it sounds, said Mayor McBride. He said developers may be constructing car wash facilities, specifically using a change in tax laws to claim an accelerated depreciation while the facility is operating. The facility can also be easily razed, so it serves as a placeholder for future development. There is one hurdle remaining for building the car wash here: the Common Council would have to approve any special use for that site.
Sustainability initiatives continue in the city, where solar panels have supplied about 95 percent of the power needed to run the Public Works Department facility (where the dop-off center is located) and 40 percent of the power needed for the Public Library. A similar project is targeted for the Mueller building at Hart Park with the hope of solar providing 100 percent of that facility’s energy needs.
Finally, tree cells (that include the roots placed in a special soil mixture box) will be installed between the sidewalks and road curb on both sides of the street between Met To Wee Lane and Mayfair Road. The project, targeted for completion no later than early 2024, will help drain water away from hard surfaces and guide it out to natural waterways. Public Works Director Dave Simpson says our city is among other communities nationally that are near the forefront of sustainability efforts.
The city’s schools, with a tradition of providing quality education, seem poised to accommodate a projected population growth. Along with that prospect, however, the Wauwatosa School District is also facing a new challenge of increased student misbehavior. It is a malady currently gripping many school districts throughout the region, state, and nation.
Specific incidents of students fighting in school, at athletic events, and at least one situation where a student punched a principal trying to break-up a fight have been put through a viral social media magnifier, catching the attention of news media and the concerned public.
Parents and school officials are certainly paying attention, as well as the teachers closest to the issue. One long-time teacher, Vicki Loving, came forward to make a public statement at a January 23 school board meeting and explained why she had cut her tenure short, with an early retirement last June.
Loving said her decision was made at a staff meeting held at the end of the 2021-22 school year. Several teachers brought up the issue of increasing violent behavior, but the response at the time had no plan to directly address the issue.
“That made my decision,” Loving said. “I have a ton of energy and a passion for teaching, but my family was begging me (not to continue) as the student behavior in the schools was becoming unbearable. I can’t do another year of the ‘same old, same old’ and unfortunately, it was the right decision.”
Loving stated that teachers have had too much responsibility and said the issue is in the hands of the school board. Because the comments shared by the teachers in this meeting were not a scheduled agenda item, no further discussion occurred.
Two long-time Wauwatosa teachers, one retired for some time and the other retired (but actively substituting), gave their views: “When I was teaching, we had behavioral problems with some kids, but the climate is changing,” said Linda Haise, who taught for more than 30 years at the elementary level. “Racial issues now are involved, and it only takes one or two students who have problems to spill over. Suspending kids doesn’t always help. You must understand the culture (of where they come from). I know there have been a lot of teachers who have decided not to stay.”
Jeff Hansher taught for 33 years before retiring and now substitutes in the same district. He points to society.
“Kids are kids,” he said. “They have not changed but what has changed is everything else. Society in general is angrier. You see it in road rage and physical violence has become more common. Kids react to how adults handle things.” Hansher said the Wauwatosa school district does a good job of equipping teachers with how to address difficult kids.
Certain student behaviors can be handled easily, and some require suspension – a distinction woven through the district’s behavioral policy. The full policy can be found at www.wauwatosa.k12.wi.us, by searching for: Division of Pupil & Family Support/Disciplinary Framework. The results include a detailed list of behaviors and consequences based on grade level, severity of infraction, and the repetition of issues.
The policy will continue to be reviewed by the district administration and the board, says Supt. Demond Means. “It is disappointing that students make these poor choices, and we are working hard to address the immediate consequences. But we are equally concentrating on getting to the root cause of what is behind this behavior and eradicating it from our school system.”
Means pointed to steps ensuring students understand expectations, including hiring deans of students and targeted communication through school assemblies and newsletters. “This has been in motion throughout the year,” he says.
The next behavior data will be reviewed this summer, Means said.
“Our community wants safe schools, I want safe schools, everybody wants safe schools,” he stated.
NOTE: Police Department Public Information Officer Abby Pavlik noted this law enforcement perspective: “When there is an incident at one of the schools, we respond along with school administrators and work collaboratively to resolve the situation and determine the best course of action dependent on the circumstances. Involved students may face two types of consequences for their behavior: school discipline and/or legal action. The Wauwatosa school district handles school discipline based on their disciplinary framework. The police department’s decision to issue a municipal citation or refer for state charges depends on the totality of the circumstances, including, but not limited to the age of the subject, prior history of similar behavior/criminal history, the actual crime that occurred, whether there was a victim, the location of the incident, etc. If the incident involves a parent, we use the same criteria to decide whether or not to issue a citation or refer for state charges.”
Don’t Feed the Animals
Earlier this spring, the Common Council adopted a state regulation prohibiting the feeding of wild animals. Mayor Dennis McBride says the public’s feeding of turkeys prompted the council’s action, noting the nuisance of the birds, includes instances of them wandering into local stores, as well as preventing U.S. Mail and other carrier package delivery.
“When you feed animals, you are also feeding rats, which has become a bigger problem,” McBride said. He noted the regulation does not prevent people from using bird feeders at their residences.
Police Public Information Officer Abby Pavlik said, “The police department initially plans on taking an educational approach to violations of the new ordinance, advising individuals of the ordinance, and providing the reasons behind it. If a citation/fine would need to be issued, the city has a progressive bail schedule. The fine amount is dependent on the totality of circumstances; however, our goal is education versus enforcement.”
The ordinance includes enforcement by the Police Department, Health Department, Building and Safety Division or any other entity designated by the City Administrator. City Attorney Alan Kesner said the fine structure falls into a general penalty category of $25 to $2,000 per incident. Further fine information, he said, will be available in the near future.
The Wauwatosa Historical Society is making a big post-Covid comeback, says Amanda Saso, the organization’s newly installed Executive Director.
Saso said the organization is looking forward to a more robust programming schedule, including bringing back the Firefly Art Fair “to its former glory” with at least 70 artist vendors scheduled for Aug. 5-6, a decided increase over recent years. She also said the organization is planning events like a summer popup live music schedule in the garden.
One of the mainstays of the Historical Society has been its speaker series in which people who have lived in the community for a long time tell their story and experience. Saso says about a half dozen have been or are being added to the website.
She also says the organization’s board members are taking a more active, direct role in events and activities.
“We are calling this year the year of development, looking at ways we can stay relevant,” she says.
Here is a quick list of summer events:
-Speaker Series: Zeddie Hyler’s Quest for Equality in Wauwatosa — June 6
-Summer Nights at WHS (Beer Garden Pop Up) — June 23, 2023
-Library Exhibit: History Firefly Art Fair — July 1-31
-Friends of the Kneeland Walker Gardens Party — July 11, 2023
-Ice Cream Social — July 16, 2023
-Summer Nights at WHS (Beer Garden Pop Up) — July 21, 2023
-Firefly Art Fair — August 5-6, 2023
-Summer Nights at WHS (Beer Garden Pop Up) — August 18, 2023
-Antique and Vintage Yard Sale — August 25-26, 2023
-Speaker Series: History of MKE County Behavior Health Institute — September 12
-Experience History: Guided Tour of Wauwatosa Cemetery — September 13
-Prosit Tosa — September 16, 2023
For more information, go to www.wauwatosahistoricalsociety.org