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Wisconsin Renters Can Apply For Up To One Year Of Assistance, Eviction Moratorium Remains In Place For Now

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Maayan Silver
/
WUWM
Don Tolbert, a paralegal with Legal Action of Wisconsin, serves clients at the Eviction Defense Project in 2019. Eviction rates have slowed during the pandemic because of eviction moratoriums and federal rent assistance programs.

A federal judge in Washington D.C. struck down a national eviction moratorium last week, put in place by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention through June 30.

The U.S. Department of Justice has appealed that ruling, and the moratorium is staying in place for now. The federal appeals court has stayed the trial court's order pending appeal.

Housing advocates believe the ban should not only continue, but is necessary to prevent people from being evicted before they can access federal rental assistance money.

Tenants and landlords can pursue more than $692 million allocated to the state of Wisconsin and its largest cities and counties through the federal Emergency Rent Assistance program.

Carmen Ayers is a staff attorney and housing priority coordinator at Legal Action of Wisconsin. She says this latest moratorium from the CDC stopped landlords from even filing eviction cases against the narrowly tailored group of people who are protected: people who can’t pay their rent and the reason they can’t pay was a direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now, the courts are not even supposed to hear those cases at all,” Ayers explains. She says those at risk of being evicted need to make an affirmative declaration that they meet these criteria and put their landlords on notice. Ayers says Wisconsin courts have been good about asking people if they meet these criteria.

“For those that it doesn't apply to, evictions are still happening — they're not covered,” she says. “And so the courts are still going forward. So, it hasn't been a blanket hold on evictions. But it's been a very, very significant slowdown.”

An extended interview with Carmen Ayers of Legal Action of Wisconsin.

Legal Action of Wisconsin generally helps people at 200% of the poverty level or below. In 2019, Don Tolbert, a paralegal at Legal Action of Wisconsin, indicated that Milwaukee County was seeing about 14,000 evictions a year.

“So right now we've had a slowdown, thankfully,” says Ayers. “Because the moratorium has been in effect, we haven't had as many landlords that are able to file evictions. But if those protections were to go away, and that federal funding wasn't to make it here before those protections went away, I think we will be significantly higher because everything would become due all at once. And people can't catch up because they don't have the jobs and the income to support them catching up at this point.”

Ayers says the federal funding has been coming in waves. “The last wave has already been exhausted. So, we are really legitimately waiting until this new wave of rental assistance comes in and then people can apply. And then they'll be given [money] based on if they meet the criteria or not," she says.

Ayers says the process is “you call, you apply, and you wait, and hopefully the money will get here soon." She continues, "And, this is a significant increase, and the rental assistance this time around, so you can really legitimately get caught up and pay forward. So, people will have a little bit more stability versus just being able to catch up and still be stuck in the same space that they're in right now.”

Ayers says right now the grant will provide people with a year’s worth of rent.

Resources To Apply For Rental Assistance:

“And it's based on what your rent is currently set at and your needs,” she says. “So, the dollar amount will vary based on the person's situation versus like just being this standard number that they were willing to give each participant that took part in the program.”

Ayers says the goal is to get people back on their feet and let them sustain their current housing.

Legal Action has written a letter asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to halt all evictions in the state through June 30, 2021.

“Our request was larger and had a wider net,” says Ayers. “We were asking for not only coverage of those individuals that were protected by the moratorium already, we were asking [for coverage for] anybody that found themselves in the position where they could potentially receive rental assistance to get them caught up.”

Ultimately, Ayers says the country and state can take lessons away from this going forward about how to relate to the eviction process.

“If you incentivize it properly, and you fund it properly, landlords or tenants can really work together to come to some common ground where people can stay housed. And it's still beneficial to the landlord, as well as the tenant and society as a whole to like combat homelessness," she says.

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