Restoration of Civil War-era care facility brings homes to Milwaukee veterans

November 08, 2022
The "Old Main" Victorian Gothic Building, built in 1867, at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home. Photo credits: Ryan Hainey

U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation invested $6.7 million of state Historic Tax Credit equity in the $44 million development.

Mark J. Young feels peace and joy when he rides his bike on the trails that surround his home at Milwaukee Soldiers Home, where he appreciates the beauty and the landscape of the restored historic buildings.

“I didn’t think that I would be living in a place like this,” said Young, a 62-year-old retired Airman Second Class veteran of the U.S. Air Force. “It is very special to be a part of such historic place.”

The Milwaukee Soldiers Home is one of three remaining original Soldiers Homes in the country. Just a decade ago, the iconic post-Civil War era buildings – located on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Wisconsin – were vacant and in danger of collapse. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs put out a request for proposals to redevelop six of the buildings on the National Historic Landmark campus, providing 101 affordable housing units for veterans and their families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Residents also have easy access to healthcare and other supportive services both on-site and through the VA medical center hospital located on campus

U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC), the community investment and tax credit subsidiary of U.S. Bank, worked with the developer The Alexander Company, which specializes in historic preservation, to make the redevelopment happen. USBCDC invested $6.7 million of state Historic Tax Credit equity in the $44 million development.  The project was later syndicated to an affordable housing nonprofit, thus facilitating the entry of additional investors that can bring more capital into the community development and renewable energy sectors.

“The Milwaukee Soldiers Home carries a historic significance for its role in veteran healthcare, and it is an honor to have been part of its restoration, ensuring affordable housing and healthcare for our nation’s veterans,” said Robert P. Espeland, vice president of state tax credit clearinghouse at USBCDC.

This is the latest example of how the USBCDC has worked to serve our veterans. Over the past five years, USBCDC has invested more than $872 million in tax credit equity and lending in 61 projects that serve at least 1,300 veterans.

“As an African American man and a veteran, I’m thankful to live in a place that was built to support soldiers that were fighting to ensure our freedom,” 

Mark J. Young 

“I was on top of the world when I learned that I got an apartment here,” said Young, who needed a new place to live due to the rent increase where he previously lived. Prior to that, he was homeless, and the thought of becoming homeless again was a great concern. “I was eager to move here, so close to the VA hospital, and in a safe and clean environment,” he adds.

That proximity allows veterans like Young to walk or bike to their appointments and treatments, as well as to the food pantries near the area.

“I can now say that I will never go hungry again,” said Young, who’s also a cancer survivor.

The project is the result of a collective effort and commitment from multiple governmental, nonprofit, and private institutions, including the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Center for Veterans Issues, the Milwaukee War Memorial, and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee is also a partner and the facility operator. The housing and services are supported by the HUD-VASH program.

“It is so amazing to see the impact this historic preservation project has had in the quality of life of the veterans who live here,” said Amy Mauel, who manages the Homeless Prevention Programs at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. “I am happy and grateful that these partnerships came together to make this happen.”

The six buildings at Milwaukee Soldiers Home were originally built as part of a legislation that President Abraham Lincoln signed in March 1865, one month before his assassination. Its purpose was to create homes for Civil War veterans who needed medical care. “Old Main”, the Victorian Gothic building, was built in 1867 to provide medical and social services for soldiers onsite and is again providing supportive housing for those veterans most at risk.

“To work on this project was the opportunity of a lifetime, one that required teamwork and creativity,” said Jonathan Beck, development project manager at The Alexander Company. “This is now an integrated community, where you see veterans from multiple generations and conflicts living together in a space that gives them supportive housing, just like it was originally intended for.”

In March 2021, Old Main and five other historic buildings on the 90+ acre campus located about four miles west of downtown Milwaukee reopened as a supportive housing complex for veterans.

“As an African American man and a veteran, I’m thankful to live in a place that was built to support soldiers that were fighting to ensure our freedom,” said Young. “After so many years this continues to be a special place, where all of us as soldiers have a bond regardless of where we come from or the branch we served.”

The Milwaukee Soldiers Home has been recognized numerous times, such as in 2021 when it was the recipient of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards, the highest national recognition bestowed upon a preservation project by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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