This spring, calls to cancel rent were plastered across social media – to the point that even the Cheesecake Factory joined in. But in the process of reopening the nation's economy, rent moratoriums have lifted in Wisconsin and other states, with Milwaukee reaching record numbers of evictions.
"Milwaukee might be the canary in the coal mine," says Alieza Durana, a writer and media strategist for Princeton’s Eviction Lab, a research team studying evictions nationwide.
Based on the lab’s data, Milwaukee County experienced its highest eviction rates this June since 2000 – 300 more than last June based on the Consolidated Court Automation Programs records. This isn’t even capturing informal evictions which surveys have found, Durana says, "happen at double the rate of legal evictions."
However, these evictions are more than numbers. Evictions compound inequality and poverty. Durana notes that, "Evictions and experiences with homelessness are dramatic and devastating events that can cause issues with mental health, job loss, academic achievement" and more.
During our country’s ongoing racial reckoning, it is especially important to recognize that evictions disproportionately affect people of color – even more so for Black women, according to Durana.
Local social service organizations like Community Advocates are experiencing extreme levels of demand for rent assistance.
"We have seen a tenfold increase in calls for assistance since the start of the pandemic," says Mike Bare, the head of the Healthy Housing Initiative at Community Advocates. "Just this week, we received 1,700 calls for help with housing."
State programs like the Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program, signed by Gov. Tony Evers back March, are helping renters with payments up to $3,000 out of a $25 million budget. But this money is limited, and with the CARES act expiring on July 31, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation will also end, likely putting more strain on assistance programs like WRAP.
Bare acknowledges that the situation could be worse without this program, and the CARES act moratorium on evictions in federally backed properties. But, he says, "Make no mistake about it, many more people are struggling to figure out how to make rent than ever before. Those who were already struggling before the pandemic are being hit even harder."
"As emergency policy begins to expire in July and August, that is when we will see the worst fault lines in our system," says Durana. "If nothing is done, millions of Americans will be at risk for evictions and homelessness."
Not all parts of the country are doing poorly when it comes to housing and renter protections, however. Based on the Eviction Labs COVID-19 housing policy scorecard, states like Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington are providing an assortment of renter protections. These policies help prevent the eviction process, but, Durana says, "They don’t fundamentally solve the problem of housing security.
"We’re in a historic moment right now, and that absolutely demands a historic and generous response to ensure that we weather the crisis, and do not allow it to devastate our most vulnerable communities," she adds.
If you, or someone you know, is facing eviction or require some sort of rent assistance, look below for resources and hotlines. And for deep dive into the state of Milwaukee’s evictions, read "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond, the founder of the Eviction Lab.
Milwaukee County Housing Division
This government body can help tenants and homeowners pay utilities and provide housing assistance.
Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee
The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee provides free assistance to low-income Milwaukeeans – including, but not limited to, issues between landlords and tenants like evictions.
(414) 270-4646 (Rent Helpline)
They offer many services, including assistance with energy bills, rent charges and various housing and homelessness programs.
Social Development Commission
SDC is offering rent assistance through the WRAP program, as well as other social services like job training and education to adults.
Consumer Financial Protection Agency
The CFPA can help with housing questions and mortgage relief, as well as services to help renters know their rights.
News 414/Neighborhood News Service
News 414 is a collaboration of several nonprofit news outlets, including NNS, which provides helpful neighborhood news. Text Milwaukee to 73224 and users are connected to journalists and services that provide information about housing, food and job opportunities.