By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Apr 24, 2021 at 7:36 PM

Robert Penner believes most tenants don’t know their rights and their landlords exploit that.

That’s why he joined the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union or MATU.

The all-volunteer organization organizes to challenge evictions, makes tenants aware of their rights and sometimes takes on negligent landlords.

“The power is in being committed to one another’s problems,” Penner said. “Having a group of people as dedicated to living situations as they are their own is important.”

The group started officially meeting in March 2020 after realizing more needed to be done to support and protect tenants in Milwaukee.

MATU member Amara Lang said the group takes a hands-on approach to assist its members.

“A few things we have been able to do to help tenants weathering this housing crisis/global pandemic have been accompanying tenants to court for eviction and other tenant issues,” she said. “And helping win neglected repairs, leading marches and press conferences for tenant rights and working toward housing justice through policy, advocacy and direct action.”

“We believe housing is a human right, it shouldn’t be a commodity,” added Jay Lucien, another MATU volunteer.

MATU volunteers work closely with organizations like Community Advocates, the Social Development Commission and the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee to ensure members get the help they need.

“Sometimes we are talking other tenants through a single complaint,” Lucien said. “Other times we are connecting them with resources in the community that can help them better than we can.”

Stopping evictions is the group’s top priority, Lucien said.

Since March 15, there have been 8,223 filings for eviction in Milwaukee, according to data compiled by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which is tracking evictions in 17 cities during the pandemic. The Milwaukee filings eclipsed pre-pandemic averages in June and July but fell below averages for August.

Ultimately, MATU seeks “safe, sustainable, reasonably priced housing in Milwaukee,” Lucien said.

Resources to consult if you’re worried about eviction

  • Community Advocates rent helpline: (414) 270-4646
  • Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee: (414) 727-5300
  • Mediate Milwaukee: (414) 939-8800
  • Legal Action of Wisconsin: (855) 947-2529
  • Social Development Commission: (414) 906-2700

Check out our Instagram Story on “Milwaukee resources to help you avoid evictions.”

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