Protesters gather to march on Mayor Tom Barrett’s house, to demand a freeze on evictions in 2020. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
“Eviction filings are on the rise again in Milwaukee County after tapering off for a few months,” the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU) warns in a statement to Wisconsin Examiner. During the first week of August, 327 evictions were filed, about 72% above average. Numbers like those haven’t been seen in Milwaukee County since last February, when winter evictions surged 81% above average. By comparison, eviction filings in Milwaukee County had been below the average from April to July, ranging from 1% to 28% below average. “MATU deplores this increase in eviction filings and is currently working with dozens of tenants to help them fight back against evictions,” the group stated.
The tenants’ union points to several contributing factors fueling a perfect storm for Milwaukee’s most vulnerable renters. “Though the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic side-effects continue to impact the people of Milwaukee federal money devoted to rental assistance is running out and renewal past Sept. 30 is not guaranteed,” MATU told the Examiner. In June, the group notes, the amount of federal funding Wisconsin received in Emergency Rental Assistance dropped from $15.3 million to $10.9 million, with the total allocated to Milwaukee County dropping from $5.2 million to $3.5 million. Further declines in emergency rental assistance will cause evictions to rise more.
“With higher eviction numbers and decreased amounts of funding from the federal government local rental assistance organizations are forced to be more selective with who they approve for rental assistance, and the length of time it takes to disperse funding.” MATU said in a statement. The union stressed that, “there are still tenants being evicted while waiting for rental assistance money to be disbursed to their landlord.”
In late July, just prior to the August spike, MATU had already started hearing concerning reports of evictions from tenants. One woman had been evicted despite being in a rent abatement program due to the poor condition of her home. Her landlord, Athlene Alexis, owns more than 20 homes throughout Milwaukee’s predominately African American North Side. In the week prior 191 evictions had been filed in the county, a figure that was dwarfed by the next wave in August. Although Alexis’ properties are located on Milwaukee’s North Side, she lives in the wealthy community of Brookfield. Many of her properties have outstanding code violations including pests, and chronic disrepair.
While Alexis had filed 40 evictions this year by the end of last month, she’s far from Milwaukee’s top evicting landlord. According to Track Milwaukee Evictions, one of the county’s top evicting landlords is Berrada Properties, which owns several LLCs that rent properties to Milwaukeeans. Just one of those LLC’s, Berrada Properties 7 LLC, was the lead plaintiff in 454 eviction filings since 2016. Another of the companies identities, Berrada Properties 16 LLC, was the lead plaintiff in 244 evictions over the same period of time.
Berrada is the subject of a Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit over allegations of illegal and unethical activity against tenants. Metropolitan Associates also is at the top of the charts, with 881 evictions filed from 2016 to the present. According to Eviction Lab, many neighborhoods in Milwaukee’s North Side are seeing an increase in evictions. The predominantly Latino South Side is also experiencing a rise in evictions. One census tract along the northwestern border between Wauwatosa and Milwaukee has seen a sharp rise of 37 evictions over the last four weeks.
MATU has long argued that protections for tenants in the Milwaukee area are inadequate, from rental assistance programs to the seemingly one-sided battles that play out in the courts. “Many landlords have refused to fill out the necessary paperwork for their tenants to receive rental assistance, preferring to move forward with eviction rather than receive [Emergency Rental Assistance] funds,” the union said in a statement. “Further, some employers are refusing to provide the necessary information that would allow tenants to receive assistance after the tenant in question has been laid off or had their hours decreased.”
The union stresses that one major weak point in the rental assistance programs is their reliance on employer cooperation. “Forcing the tenant to rely on their landlord and employer, whose class interests are often directly opposed to those of the tenant, creates a situation where the state empowers the landlord and employer at the expense of the tenant, putting them at the mercy of those who hold a significantly more powerful social and economic position in society,” the tenants’ union states. Previous eviction surges have occurred in the winter, usually from December to February. As the numbers continue to rise, Milwaukeeans will need to brace for another potential surge once the cold sets in.
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