Barnes highlights equality goal at ribbon-cutting

At a recent ribbon-cutting event for a new affordable housing development in Madison, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes highlighted his goal of improving equality.  

His comments yesterday afternoon came before Gov. Tony Evers rolled out his first budget, which proposes capping a tax credit for manufacturers, increasing the state’s gas tax by 8 cents, funding clean water initiatives and legalizing medical marijuana.

“I’m proud that we are introducing a budget that supports equity and sustainability; that’s what my office is going to be focused on,” Barnes said yesterday. “That’s what projects like this are centered on, or should be centered on… making sure that residence doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Barnes was introduced by Kevin Newell, president of Royal Capital Group of Milwaukee. This development firm helped bring together the partners involved in the project, called Harmony at Grandview Commons.

Newell said the Harmony brand designates properties with a “strategic focus” on social determinants of health.

“We are especially excited that this development is the first one in Wisconsin under Harmony,” Newell said. He said the branding is “a really important way” to bring attention to the various social services that will be available there.

And, he says, the ribbon-cutting is “just the start,” as partners will perform a needs assessment with incoming residents to identify what services would be most helpful for them.

“Wisconsin deserves to be a national leader in all areas,” Barnes said. “I think this is one area where we can particularly be very successful.”

Barnes was also joined by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, Cinnaire Senior Vice President of Business Development Chris Laurent, and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin CEO Ellen Sexton.

Before slicing through the red ribbon strung in front of the Harmony offices with a large pair of scissors, Sexton explained why UHC decided to get involved with affordable housing.

“Housing is health care, and the connection is strong,” Sexton said. “We know that the greatest barriers to health care are not just clinical issues, but also some of the social and financial areas.”

UHC provided $5.4 million for the development, while $11 million more came from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. The 94-unit community includes six two-story buildings with 28 two-bedroom and 66 three-bedroom apartment homes.

Residents will get access to a computer lab and meeting space, a fitness center, picnic areas, a “community clubhouse” that houses a library, and other amenities. They will also benefit from health and nutrition classes, financial training, higher-education courses, after-school activities for kids and more.

In his remarks before the ribbon-cutting, Soglin provided some historical context about affordable housing in the United States. After the end of World War II, returning soldiers found little housing due to the Depression and because so many resources went into the war effort.

Soglin says that led to a groundswell in favor of funding affordable housing, but there were issues with that movement.

“There was a philosophy that if you were to build publicly financed housing, it should not be good housing for the simple fact that you did not want families to become comfortable in it,” he said. “If you made the housing stressful in a sense, it would encourage them to move upwards and onwards.”

As it turns out, that strategy wasn’t productive and didn’t lead to good outcomes for those families, according to Soglin. He says the new Harmony development represents a new paradigm.

“We are building great housing that’s not designed to make people miserable, but is designed to enhance their lives,” he said.


–Alex Moe