Milwaukee County proposal would offer assistance to evicted families

Posted at 6:08 PM, Jun 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-27 16:35:54-04

MILWAUKEE -- At least 50 new eviction cases are filed every single day in Milwaukee County, pushing families out of their homes.

A county supervisor wants her proposed resolution to help prevent families from becoming homeless.

More than 13,000 evictions took place in Milwaukee County last year, and more than half of all tenants never showed up to court.

County Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic shared her proposed resolution Monday only with TODAY'S TMJ4. She says it is modeled after an already successful program in Washington State.

The resolution suggests investing $225,000 to create a housing stabilization assistant position. Part of the money would also pay for qualifying tenants’ expenses to avoid eviction. It would also double the number of days the Eviction Defense Project is open at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, which assists people who are being evicted for free.

"Some people think it might be in a certain region or affecting folks in poverty but anyone can stumble upon a hard time. If you have a sudden job loss you might not be able to pay that rent," Dimitrijevic said.

We reached out to the Wisconsin Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Southeast Wisconsin to get reactions on this proposed resolution. The Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin sent TODAY'S TMJ4 this statement:

1. Almost without exception the tenant defendants are being evicted for nonpayment of rent.
We saw hardly any cases where the tenant was being evicted "illegally" - by which I mean evicted on impermissible grounds such as racial discrimination or because the tenant made a complaint to a building inspector. Such cases occasionally happen (and such a tenant "deserves" a lawyer, most would agree) but statistical studies of the more than 10,000 annual eviction cases in Milwaukee County show that well over 90% are for nonpayment of rent.
2. Delinquent rent is sometimes just one month but is often two months or more.
Matthew Desmond, author of the 2016 best-selling book Evicted studied Milwaukee court evictions in 2008 and 2009 and found that the average amount of back rent was about $935. But keep in mind that that is back rent at the time the case is filed and the landlord will lose another month before the tenant moves out (either per a stipulation or through the sheriff). The cases we observed ranged from one month’s unpaid rent of $500-650 to a case of $1,389 to a case with four months of unpaid rent.
3. The Eviction Defense Project can be of some help to landlords.
We observed many of the volunteer attorneys negotiating with landlords or their attorneys to work out a stipulation -- maybe for the landlord to agree to wait for an Emergency Assistance grant or to give the tenant some extra time to vacate in exchange for a quick resolution of the case. In these cases the landlord actually benefits from the fact that the tenant’s attorney has advised the tenant that they are ultimately going to lose if they contest the case and will then have an eviction judgment on their record. Unfortunately, our statistics so far show that at least half of the stipulated deferred payment cases wind up back in court with an eviction when the tenant does not live up to their promise to pay the past due (or future) rent.
5. Solutions to Preventing Evictions
Taxpayer money from Milwaukee County or other sources could best be spent by preventing evictions instead of just delaying them, which is what the Eviction Defense Project mostly does. Increased funding for emergency assistance programs such as those run by Community Advocates is one solution. Another solution would be for tenants with a track record of evictions to be put on a voucher program to pay the landlord directly.

This resolution still has to get through committee, public hearing and then may go to the full county board for a vote in July.