Landlords, tenant advocates team up for housing relief request

    Urban apartment building
    Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash.

    Groups representing landlords and tenants have teamed up to ask state officials for emergency relief measures aimed at preventing the loss of housing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    They are seeking state legislation that would provide temporary rent assistance, financial aid for landlords, as well as other services to help reduce not just homelessness but housing insecurity.

    Organizers have sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers as well as the Republican and Democratic leadership in the state Legislature.

    Following the COVID-19 Health Emergency that Evers declared March 12, the governor issued an executive order March 27 to halt evictions and home foreclosures for 60 days, ending in late May.

    Skyrocketing unemployment has slashed incomes, leaving tenants unable to keep up their rent payments, says Mike Bare, research and program coordinator at Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, one of the organizations teaming up to advance the proposal.

    “When the moratorium ends we expect there to be a flood of eviction filings,” Bare says. “We expect there to be a crisis. With swift intervention a crisis of housing insecurity or homelessness is largely preventable.”

    Organizations signing the letter include Community Advocates Inc. and the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, both organizations that assist and advocate for tenants, along with the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Apartment Association, two landlord trade groups. Mediate Milwaukee, which works to resolve disputes, is also part of the coalition.

    “We have been working over a number of years with landlords, housing service providers and tenant advocates developing a relationship to respond to housing insecurity generally,” says Bare.

    The coalition hopes to see its agenda included in follow-up state legislation for another state extraordinary session of the Legislature.

    He adds that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has already offered the state $12.7 million in emergency housing solution funds for Wisconsin that could help finance some of the proposals that the organizations are presenting to policymakers. More HUD money may be available through the federal CARES Act passed in response to the pandemic.

    The coalition letter, addressed to Evers as well as to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) and Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse), seeks:

    • Funding for temporary rent assistance.
    • Grants to fund nonprofit mediation and legal services to help landlords and low-income tenants avoid eviction.
    • More funding for housing navigators to help people find affordable, stable and good-quality housing.
    • Financial aid to landlords hurt by rental losses as a result of the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic
    •  An expansion of the state homestead tax credit. The credit is worth up to $1,168 a year and is offered to renters and homeowners with incomes less than $25,000 a year; the proposal would boost the credit to $1,500 a year and the eligible income ceiling to $40,000 a year.
    • Funding for several other programs to help stabilize housing and serve homeless people in the community.
    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.