MILWAUKEE — There's a space inside Milwaukee's Community Advocates' brick building on North James Lovell Street that will soon operate as the Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center (RHRC).
Its a collaborative effort between the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, City of Milwaukee, Community Advocates, Hope House, IMPACT 211, Legal Action, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Mediate Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and UEDA (Urban Economic Development Association) to help tenants and landlords with housing issues, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Jessica Hernandez will serve as a triage specialist for the RHRC.
During COVID-19, she has been assisting those in need virtually, helping them navigate rental assistance applications or issues they may be having with landlords. She feels a physical building will be instrumental for those who need more hands-on help.
"We're going to have the capacity of helping them get onto Zoom meetings for court hearings in case they don't have that," said Hernandez.
"We also are serving the Spanish community. I am bilingual. Not often, but I do get referrals for Spanish speakers who do need help with the application," she added.
There's no specific opening date yet, but add computer kiosks and some signage and it will be ready for the public sometime this year.
Hernandez will work in the space alongside others other community partners like the Legal Aid Society.
"If they do end up needing an attorney, I'm the person that is the go-between, between them and the attorneys at Legal Aid Society," said Aisha Ware, a paralegal who will team up with Hernandez in assisting clients.
"There are times when an eviction has been filed and a court proceeding is underway and we want to make sure that the tenants in the situation have a right to counsel," Ware said.
Housing Strategy Director with Community Advocates, Deb Heffner, says plans for the physical center got pushed back because of COVID-19, but instead the non-profit worked with RHRC co-partners to develop the website renthelpmke.org and call center 414-895-RENT and triage team to respond to inquiries.
Having a space, however, will supplement the ways they have been serving the community.
"We understand that not everyone has access to technology and forms can be confusing. So, we want to be as accessible as possible," Heffner said.
The location isn't just for tenants. Landlords seeking mediation can come to the office space. With the federal eviction moratorium now extended through June 30, the demand for those services may increase.
"That continuous engagement with the landlords, having the Apartment Association of Southeast Wisconsin as one of the co-founding partners, has been really helpful as well in communicating, and eviction diversion alternatives," Heffner said.
"Mediate Milwaukee’s professional mediators help landlords and tenants talk about options and come to agreeable solutions outside of eviction court," according to a spokesperson from Mediate Milwaukee.
Heffner explained donations and fundraising from city and county partners made this possible. She adds the community need couldn't be ignored.
Since March 1, Community Advocates has provided rental assistance to more than 3,000 households in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.
"It's not just the quantity of people that are applying. But it's also the duration of assistance that people are needing."
While the Milwaukee Rental Housing Resource Center isn't open yet, you can apply for rental assistance virtually or schedule an in-person appointment for the RHRC /Triage Specialists by visiting renthelpmke.org. You can also reach out via email at Info@renthelpmke.org or call 414-895-RENT.
If you qualify it can take up to 30 days to receive funds.