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Proposed Milwaukee County housing and eviction subcommittee rejected

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Proposed Milwaukee County housing and eviction subcommittee rejected

Jun 23, 2022 | 6:25 am ET
By Isiah Holmes
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Proposed Milwaukee County housing and eviction subcommittee rejected
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Protesters gather to march on Mayor Tom Barrett's house, to demand a freeze on evictions. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Members of a Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors committee voted to recommend the rejection of the creation of a housing insecurity, eviction and racial equity subcommittee. In a vote Friday, June 17, the health, equity, human needs and strategic planning committee voted to reject a proposed ordinance change establishing the new subcommittee. The subcommittee would have focused on housing insecurity and developed eviction prevention strategies while attempting to protect  racial equity.

“I am disappointed by the result of the vote,” said Supervisor Sequanna Taylor, the proposal’s lead author. “This proposal was brought forward by the community.” Taylor added that “as elected officials, we need to ensure that the will of the people can impact how Milwaukee County allocates funds. Having community members serve on subcommittees and provide recommendations to the board would do just that.”

The subcommittee’s recommendations would have been forwarded to the board of supervisors for budget consideration. Consisting of the health, equity, human needs and strategic planning committee’s chair, two housing experts, at least one person who had been served with an eviction notice, and at least one person who had experienced housing insecurity or homelessness, the subcommittee would have helped Milwaukee hone its responses to housing insecurity. The resolution was previously unanimously recommended for adoption by the judiciary, safety and general services committee. The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will take up the item when it meets Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Housing insecurity, and rising rates of evictions, have weighed on the minds of officials in the Milwaukee area for a long time. Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the number of evictions has remained high. The trend carried into 2021, and by the end of the year tent communities were growing in local parks. Activists and outreach workers started sounding the alarm.

The housing outreach group Street Angels reported a rise in the number of unhoused Milwaukeeans they were encountering to 500 a week. In November, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a lawsuit against Berrada Properties, which owns 8,000 units in Milwaukee and Racine. The lawsuit alleges that the company wrongly forced tenants out and confiscated their belongings. In April, a report  released by the online resource HelpAdvisor found that nearly half of African American renters in Wisconsin were behind on rent. The report drew from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which included March 2-14 of this year. The survey found that 13% of Wisconsin’s Black renters were “not at all confident that they will be able to pay their rent next month.”

Policy solutions are in demand. “Both the number and the dire effects of evictions and precarious housing in Milwaukee County are a crisis,” said Supervisor Ryan Clancy. “That crisis demands a forum where residents and stakeholders can share their experiences, develop and advocate for strategies to reduce the harm done and fix or replace the systems which allow that harm to continue.”

Supervisor Pricilla E. Coggs-Jones echoed that sentiment. “We cannot continue with the same practices and policies and expect different results,” she said. “I applaud the author and cosponsors for attempting to be proactive rather than reactive as we attempt to address the ongoing eviction crisis in Milwaukee County.” Coggs-Jones sits on committee, and voted in favor of the new subcommittee alongside Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman. Supervisors Anthony Stskunas, Deanna Alexander, and Shawn Rolland voted against the proposed ordinance.