Milwaukee County tenants will have ‘right to counsel’
Protesters gather to march on Mayor Tom Barrett’s house, to demand a freeze on evictions. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a “right to counsel” for residents facing eviction or foreclosure. Funding for the program has also been approved for a year and a half to provide no-cost legal representation.
“This is a big, significant measure,” said Supv. Ryan Clancy, who first pushed the proposal. “But it’s part of a larger investment which includes both continued rent assistance and investment further upstream in human needs.” Clancy added that, “I’m confident that the data that we collect during this pilot program will compel us to continue and expand this support beyond these first 18 months.”
Evictions in Milwaukee County were up 26% during 2020, as business closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic left many without work. Over 56,000 evictions were filed in the City of Milwaukee from 2016-2020. According to a press release, data from Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Eviction Defense Project shows that 90% of eviction cases in the county are dismissed or delayed when a tenant has representation. Many of those were filed by just a few large, private entities which own many properties in the city. The jump in evictions pushed many groups, like the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU) to hold protests and connect residents facing eviction with resources.
The right to counsel measure has also been pledged at least $1.5 million from United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, to help bolster the effort. Organizations like MATU, Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America, Legal Action Wisconsin, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Street Angles, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others are also prepared to offer support as the initiative gets implemented.
With the end of the federal eviction moratorium looming, it was essential that we pass this key legislation today,” said Clancy. “Although a monumental undertaking such as this will take time to become fully staffed, I am confident that the dedicated folks in charge of implementing this will do so with all the speed they can muster.”
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