Evictions in Milwaukee rise, tenants under pressure

By: - January 6, 2023 6:10 am
Protesters gather for a Milwaukee Autonomous Union action during the summer of 2020. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Protesters gather for a Milwaukee Autonomous Union action during the summer of 2020. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Evictions in the Milwaukee area were 51% above average for the region in the first 10 days of December, according to Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which has published the first ever dataset of evictions across the U.S. since 2000. The December data for Milwaukee represents the largest surge in eviction filings in recent months. Filings in November were 8% above average.

Areas with majority Black residents in both the northern and southern portions of the county were some of the most affected, according to an interactive map of eviction filings across Milwaukee County.

Until November, the last time eviction filings climbed above average was in March 2022, when landlords in Milwaukee County filed evictions at a rate of 27% above average.

Housing advocates in Milwaukee are well acquainted both with the raw statistics, and the human suffering behind them. Over the last several weeks, the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU) has chronicled the plight of area tenants. Some have been evicted, while others have been forced to live in squalid conditions in properties left derelict by landlords. On Dec. 28, WISN 12 reported on a tenant who endured nearly two weeks without water and heat. The news story aired just days after parts of Wisconsin, and much of the country, experienced plummeting temperatures and heavy December snows.

“It has actually gotten worse,” the tenant, Tiffany Daniel, told WISN 12. “The toilet that was working yesterday is now not working. The pipes burst, there was a leak under the sink this morning, the pipes were just throwing out a lot of water, where the water was all over the floor and it ran into a bedroom down there.”

The Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services had issued emergency repair orders for the heat and water, but Daniel didn’t trust the landlord to fix the issues, and didn’t have time to wait. Daniel was eventually forced to leave the home she’d lived in for three years with her five children. The MATU has helped Daniel start a GoFundMe page to help with expenses while she finds stable housing.

Daniel’s story is similar to that of Patricia Williams, a North Side Milwaukee grandmother who was evicted in July. Williams’ home was dilapidated, and left in a similar condition to Daniel’s, though they had different landlords. In Williams’ case, emergency repair orders had also been issued by the DNS.

The union also highlighted the stories of other tenants to local media. In one case, tenants lived without heat and with bursting pipes and pest infestations on properties owned by landlords who were receiving rent assistance.

MATU stresses that these stories are not one-offs but instead are playing out every day in Milwaukee. On its website, the MATU has resources to help tenants deal with evictions and find legal help. The union also offers tips for homeowners and information on landlords.

“MATU is working frantically across the city to deal with the housing situation, which could be called nothing other than a crisis,” Robert Penner, a member of the MATU, told Wisconsin Examiner. “Tenants are being evicted at a stunning rate and are dealing with illegal eviction, retaliation, intimidation, and unlivable conditions (no heat, electric outages, infestation, burst pipes, clogged plumbing, etc) and have no recourse.”

Penner called the Department of Neighborhood Services “worse than useless” and blamed political leaders for turning a blind eye to the problem.  The only recourse, he said,  is for tenants to organize themselves and “put massive pressure on the landlords and city.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.