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Program gets green light, Milwaukee County renters facing eviction have access to free legal counsel

Southeast Wisconsin has highest eviction rates in state
Posted at 6:05 AM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-01 14:02:09-04

MILWAUKEE COUNTY — Some renters consider a new pilot program in Milwaukee County a sigh of relief.

It's called "Right to Counsel" and it promises free legal representation for those facing eviction.

"It's a guarantee that if you are facing eviction or foreclosure and you are a Milwaukee County resident, as of July 1, you're going to have the right to an attorney," said Milwaukee County Supervisor for District 4, Ryan Clancy.

Clancy authored the resolution which was approved by the County Board on the week of June 21. With the federal eviction moratorium extended to the end of July, he knows the need will be there.

Supervisor Clancy tells TMJ4 News the public signing of the proposal will take place at 12 p.m. on Monday, July 19.

"When tenants have access to legal counsel, it means that their lawyers and the landlord's lawyers can really come to a meeting of the minds," he added.

Clancy said there will be twelve appointed attorneys who specialize in housing law. The lawyers will help tenants with landlord disputes and go to court with them.

"It will be imperfect, especially for the first couple of months. This involves hiring, training, and setting up about twenty people total counting the lawyers, and the support staff and everybody else," Clancy said.

Research by the Track Milwaukee Evictions Project shows in the city of Milwaukee, 56,420 evictions were filed from 2016 to 2020.

Research from Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Eviction Defense Project from 2018 and 2019 shows 90 percent of eviction cases are dismissed or delayed when a tenant has legal representation.

"Something went terribly wrong with respect to the landlord side of things," said Heiner Giese, an attorney for the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin (AASEW).

Giese argues providing people with free legal counsel won't prevent them from losing their housing and that landlords end up paying the price in the end.

"That means that landlords won't be getting their rent because they've got to negotiate with an attorney to give them more time," he said.

Giese realizes so many tenants are still struggling to pay rent. He feels the answer is to get them more financial assistance -- not an attorney.

"The vast majority of landlords I've talked to are actually appreciative of this. I thought when I first introduced it that it would be landlords on one side, tenants on the other. It's not," Supervisory Clancy said.

Clancy said Milwaukee County will fund the estimated $3 million pilot program the rest of this year and next year with money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

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