MILWAUKEE — As the calendar turns to the next month, it is causing severe anxiety for those struggling to pay their rent. However, a collaboration between nine local rental housing stakeholders is hoping to keep a roof over their heads this winter.
“Things are dire,” Colleen Foley, Executive Director for Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee said. “It’s going into winter in Wisconsin. We know how hard that is anyway, let alone potentially losing your housing.”
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“It is daunting,” Emily Kenney, Director of Systems Change at Impact Inc. Said. “It’s hard to know where to turn. That’s the main reason here. We want people to have one place to turn to.”
Foley and Kenney represent two of the nine rental housing stakeholders collaborating together to help those in need. The Rental Housing Resource Center website, RentHelpMKE.org, goes live December 1. Folks can also call the helpline at (414) 895-RENT (7368) or email at info@RentHelpMKE.org.
It’s somewhat of a one-stop-shop for people facing eviction to go for help.
“One of the things that’s hardest as a community member is navigating which place to go and when,” Kenney said. “It’s for those people who work so hard to get bus money to get to this place and it’s actually not the right place so now, they have to go to a different place. The RHRC is so there is one door, one place that both tenants and landlords can go to know their rights and get resources.”
Kenney made it known, this is meant to help everybody impacted by the housing crisis. Of course, they want to keep residents from being homeless. But they also are working to ensure landlords are paid as well to help maintain quality housing in the area.
“This is their business and they have families too,” Kenney said. “It’s really important, as a community, that we’re working together and landlords are a piece of that community. At the end of the day, we need housing stock as well.”
In November, there were 567 evictions filed in Milwaukee County with a majority, 158, filed during the holiday week of Thanksgiving.
That’s not to say there is a good time to lose your house. There isn’t. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a worse situation than losing your housing during a holiday in the middle of a Wisconsin Winter during a pandemic.
It’s a fear Shannon Pierce has for her family of seven.
“I’m scared,” Pierce said. “I’m always scared.”
Pierce has five children. She lost her job just before the pandemic started and hasn’t been able to land on her feet since. She’s worked odd jobs, like delivering food, to make ends meet. She and her husband paid their rent with their tax return. When that ran out, they used the one and only stimulus check they received. They’re out on that too and are a high risk of being on the curb come Christmas.
It’s a fear that was close to being realized for Pierce.
“I think of me and my kids being on the corner, begging for money,” Pierce said. “Realistically, we’re lost. If we don’t have a house, a home, we’re lost.”
Pierce got help from Hope House, another collaborator in this effort. They helped her navigate through some paperwork to stave off eviction.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Pierce said. “We’ll try to cross that bridge when we get there. I don’t know. Hopefully, it’s warm when they kick us out.”
“Many families and individuals are a couple of paychecks away from not being able to pay rent,” Kenney said. “We want to make sure people get the resources so that doesn’t happen.”
The Centers for Disease Control extended a federal moratorium on evictions just a few months ago. Not everyone is eligible. If you commit a crime or violate the terms of your lease, with the exception of missing rent payments, you likely won’t qualify. But the RHRC is there to help through all of this.
They just want to make it clear to folks, no matter how hopeless it may feel, there are options.
“It’s important to know what’s available to stop immediate eviction,” Kenney said. “But utilizing the resource center to see what you're eligible for to make those payments.”
It’s a resource to help keep a roof over your head but it’s not a pass to skip rent payments.
“Just because you’re not being evicted doesn’t mean you don’t owe,” Kenney said. “Part of the RHRC is helping you get the resources so you can pay your rent.”
Kenney says they will need more funding in order to keep this up. The CDC’s eviction moratorium ends at the beginning of the year. If nothing is done, more people could be out on the streets.
Families like Shannon Pierce and her five kids.
“It makes me scared,” Pierce said. “I need a place for my kids. I’m not scared for me. I just think of them. What would happen? Where would we go?”
Here’s the Rebound Rundown:
- If you are facing eviction or foreclosure, there is a national moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control that can prevent you from being put out on the street.
- Remember, even if you do qualify for assistance, that doesn't mean you don't have to eventually pay your rent or mortgage.
- The Rental Housing Resource Center website goes live on December 1. They will help coach you through to keep a roof over your head.