For blighted neighborhoods, the revitalization of community often relies on more than simply affordable housing. Steady income, or lack thereof, determines a family’s ability to maintain monthly housing payments. Just a month or more of unemployment can prove catastrophic to already struggling families. Welford Sanders, former director of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corporation, began to recognize this need for occupational growth as he began development on the King Drive Commons project.
The project, started in 2001, sought to provide affordable housing throughout the Harambee neighborhood of Milwaukee, but also sought to provide a means of permanence within it. After four completed projects in the two-decade long development, Sanders began work on the King Drive Commons V in 2014, a redevelopment of a former factory that stood at the epicenter of the four previous developments. Unfortunately, Sander’s untimely death prevented him from seeing the project reach its completion. Renamed in his honor, the Welford Sanders Lofts partnered with WHEDA in 2016, hoping to provide the permanence which Sanders envisioned. Participating in WHEDA’s new Emerging Business Program (EPB), both parties ensured the most successful results.
The EBP partners WHEDA with developers to help local residents access construction jobs. By encouraging developers to hire underemployed/unemployed individuals, neighborhoods begin to stabilize. The Welford Sanders Lofts, completed in 2017, utilized a construction crew comprised of 40% unemployed or underemployed individuals, many of which came from the very neighborhood where the development was constructed.
As of 2019, the Lofts showcase 47 units of affordable housing, complete with a movie theater, community kitchen, and library located on the top floor of the building. Though the Lofts were born as an effort to attain permanent housing to unite a community, through the employment in the Emerging Business Program, it was the community who reunited to build the Lofts.
By providing a place for affordable housing, the Welford Lofts seek to maintain the integrity of the Harambee community, and thanks to partnership with WHEDA’s Emerging Business Program, the community was provided a means of income to fund affordable living. When all pull together, like WHEDA and Sanders in their paralleled visions, the revitalization of Wisconsin neighborhoods becomes more than just a hopeful thought.