Sign up for the Opinion Roundup email newsletter
My longtime friend Salli Martyniak, who has this habit of getting involved in causes that she believes truly make a difference to Madison's future, invited me recently to tour Bayview, the showcase affordable housing community located in the city's historic Triangle Neighborhood bordered by West Washington Avenue, Regent and Park streets.
Bayview has long been held up as an example of how community-based public housing should and can work.
It's been 50 years since the neighborhood's apartments were built to help replace the hundreds of homes in the city's old "Bush" that were razed in the '60s to make room for urban redevelopment. The Bayview apartments and its community center are located in the northeast piece of the Triangle, which includes high rises and other buildings owned by the city's Community Development Authority.
Bayview is an unimposing but colorful neighborhood, practically invisible to the thousands of cars that pass by on the busy streets outside. Inside, though, it's a bustling community of nearly 300 diverse residents. The apartments are well kept. Lawns and green spaces are ample and residents' gardens complement the scene.
Nearly 80% of Bayview's households are extremely low income and another 15% are very low income.
Alexis London, Bayview's dynamic executive director, told me the average annual income of subsidized households is $15,277. The residents pay 30% of their income on rent and utilities, with the rest subsidized by the federal government. Currently, 93% of Bayview residents qualify for rent assistance.
More than half of the residents are from Southeast Asia, many of them Vietnam refugees or descendants of refugees who fled after the war. About 25% are Latino, including many immigrants. African Americans and African immigrants comprise about 14%, and the rest are of European and Native American ancestry.
London and Natalie Erdman, Madison's retired planning director who has become a champion of Bayview, couldn't say enough about the camaraderie among the residents and how they join together. Remarkably, most of the children graduate from high school and either leave to go to college or find well-paying employment.
In the midst of all this success, though, no one can escape the fact that the development is old. Apartments are small and cramped, accommodations for disabilities and the elderly are lacking and the community center is bursting at the seams.
It's time, decided the Bayview Foundation, the nonprofit that serves as the administrator, to bite the bullet and renovate. In a planning process that included recommendations from the residents, a three-year reconstruction plan is now underway.
The 102 townhouses built in 1971 will be replaced by a 48-unit four-story apartment building, a 25-unit three-story apartment structure, and 57 two-story townhouses, plus a new community center, double the size of the current one. Not only will the one-, two- and 3-bedroom apartments have more square footage, green space will be enhanced and a pedestrian friendly street will be built to intersect with West Washington.
It all, of course, costs money. The good news is that the housing component of the project has been fully funded through low-income housing tax credits from the state's WHEDA program, along with help from the city, Dane County and some public investors.
But funds still need to be raised to finance the new community center and other shared spaces in Bayview. So far, the foundation has raised roughly $5 million of a needed $9 million.
Erdman, who is serving as the fundraising campaign's chair, is confident the Madison community will come through to make the entire plan a reality.
As I said, Salli Martyniak has this habit of supporting good causes. She's been involved for years in helping nonprofits get on their feet and was instrumental in turning the old Dane Fund into Forward Community Investments, which she directed until retiring two years ago.
The Bayview Neighborhood is just one more of the causes she believes will make Madison a better place for all.