Federal eviction moratorium may not be enough for Wisconsin renters

By: - January 29, 2021 6:15 am
Protesters gather to march on Mayor Tom Barrett's house, to demand a freeze on evictions. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Protesters hold an eviction demonstration in Milwaukee in 2020. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

One the first actions of the Biden administration was the move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to extend the federal moratorium on evictions, which was extended from last September to March 31, 2021. The moratorium is designed to protect tenants from being evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it may not provide enough protection for Wisconsin’s struggling renters.

“Wisconsin renters should know that they are not automatically entitled to protections under the CDC order,” says Lara Sutherlin, an administrator with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). “We encourage Wisconsin tenants who are struggling to make rent payments to seek this important relief by submitting their request in writing to their landlord.”

Christina Boyd stands alongside fellow rent protesters. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Christina Boyd stands alongside fellow rent protesters. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

In order to avoid eviction, a tenant needs to provide landlords with a signed copy of the CDC declaration. In addition, according to a DATCP press release, each adult listed on the lease or renter’s agreement must provide their own, separate copy of the order. Renters are also eligible for rental assistance through a $25 billion emergency rental assistance fund provided through federal legislation. The assistance can be used for rent or utility bills.

For renters, or landlords, who have questions, DATCP has a webpage of frequently asked questions for reference.

“The economic fallout from the pandemic has resulted in housing insecurity for many Wisconsinites,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul. “I’m glad the eviction moratorium has been extended. Those who need eviction relief should connect with state and local resources in order to utilize the emergency rental assistance available.”

Housing activists working in cities like Milwaukee feel the federal actions do not provide enough relief for struggling renters.

Robert “Bobby” Penner, an organizer with the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU), says the federal extension is not enough. “It is only a half-measure,” Penner tells Wisconsin Examiner. “Rent forgiveness and cancellation need to be on the agenda. People are accumulating thousands of dollars in back rent right now that they will be unable to pay without major government intervention when the eviction moratorium is finally allowed to expire.”

In August 2020, MATU held a rally and march in Milwaukee to protest the rising numbers of evictions in the area. Demonstrators, including people who had recently been evicted, gathered near Mayor Tom Barrett’s house in Milwaukee’s Washington Boulevard neighborhood.

That month saw a sharp spike in eviction filings, many from property owners who concentrate their business in low-income neighborhoods. During August of 2020, more than 1,300 eviction filings found their way to Milwaukee-area courts. That was after more than 1,100 evictions were filed in May, as the economic toll of the pandemic began to set in.

Penner condemns these practices, and worries about the lack of legal recourse for tenants. “If landlords are still taking aim at the poorest and most vulnerable people during the moratorium,” he  adds, “what makes anybody think they are not going to immediately evict tenants who are still behind on rent due to COVID, when the moratorium is over?”


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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.