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Milwaukee County Resolution Would Give Residents Facing Eviction A Right To Legal Representation

Civil servant sticks a notice of eviction of the tenant, close up
Vyacheslav Dumchev
Currently without a right to legal counsel, few Milwaukeeans are able to afford an attorney when facing eviction. A new proposal aims to change that.

There is an impending eviction crisis in the United States.

As eviction moratoriums end around the nation, many people are facing the reality of losing their homes. The impact can be devastating, not just to the families experiencing it, but to the greater community. But currently in Milwaukee and many places across the United States, residents are not guaranteed legal representation in non-criminal court cases — including eviction cases.

A new resolution by Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy would change that. The right to counsel program would give all Milwaukeean’s facing eviction or foreclosure access to legal counsel. Similar programs in New York and Cleveland have helped keep people in their homes and avoid the eviction process altogether.

Clancy says currently only a small percent of people facing eviction are able to afford legal counsel, but he says having that access makes a big difference in outcomes. “The process always goes better. The odds of you staying in your current housing are very good,” he says.

That is important because losing housing can have ripple effects throughout different parts of a tenant’s life, especially if they have children.

“If you lose your access to housing, it means that any children in your household are much more likely to have increased absence rates and lower grades during not just that term in school but future ones. It means they’re more likely to have elevated lead levels. It means that you’re more likely as the tenant to lose your job,” he says.

Clancy adds that this program, when enacted in other cities, has served as a deterrent for landlords to try and evict a tenant illegally. Currently, landlords know that a tenant is unlikely to be able to push back and fight an eviction in court meaning there is unlikely to be oversight on what could be an illegal eviction.

“At the beginning, I think you had people looking at this and saying, ‘If we provide everybody an attorney, it’s going to clog up the court, we’re just going to have, you know, gridlock’, and it was exactly the opposite. What New York, and what Cleveland, and what other municipalities have found is that when, you know, landlords realize that there’s the threat of somebody pushing back on an unscrupulous eviction that they’re less likely to being those evictions in the first place and they’re more often willing to work with their tenants to keep them in their housing,” he says.

Going forward, Clancy says Milwaukee County needs to be focused on programs that have a direct impact on people’s lives, like keeping them in their home. He says since March 2021 the county has been able to prevent 5,480 evictions by providing rent assistance funded through the last federal stimulus package.

“The judicious and careful application of dollars towards human needs really does have a tangible effect,” he says.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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