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Low-income people who are facing eviction in Milwaukee County gain more access to free legal help

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley speaks during Thursday's news conference at Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee.
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley spoke during Thursday's news conference at Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee.

Efforts are stepping up to help low-income people who are facing eviction get access to legal representation.

The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee has opened an office in downtown Milwaukee for a program called EvictionFreeMKE Right to Counsel.

It aims to give free legal advice to Milwaukee County tenants under 200% of federal poverty guidelines, who are facing an eviction case.

The United Way of Greater Milwaukeeand Waukesha County, the city of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County are steering dollars to the three-year pilot project.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said the issue is personal, because when growing up, he and his mother were evicted three times from their home. Crowley said the first time they were evicted his mom chose to have their belongings hauled to a warehouse, and lost access to the items.

Crowley said the next two evictions his mother opted for what he calls the "curb route."

"Where I literally come home from high school and literally see all our belongings sitting at the curb. It's extremely embarrassing when you think about your family and your neighbors who are watching this," Crowley said.

Colleen Foley, Executive Director, of Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee. speaks during Thursday's event.
Chuck Quirmbach
Colleen Foley, Executive Director of Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee spoke during Thursday's event.

Legal Aid Executive Director Colleen Foley said a tenant having an attorney can make a difference.

"Often, when you get to eviction court the relationship between landlord and tenant has reached a pretty low point. The relationship has soured. So if you have a lawyer, whether the landlord has a lawyer or not, it's sort of a neutral party to help make sure the tenant understands how to quickly connect that person to emergency rent assistance," Foley said.

Foley said an attorney can also help explain the tenant's legal rights.

She said Legal Aid has been taking on about 40 cases a week since early September. But local weekly eviction filings have been on an upswing since federal protections expired in August.

"August 26 was when the Supreme Court ended the moratorium. Pre that rescission, the numbers hovered around 120. Since then, it's been like 160, 170, 180, 200. Then last week, nearly 300 filings," Foley said.

Foley said her agency has also been sending information letters to people who received eviction notices.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 14,000 eviction filings were filed in the county each year.

Legal Action of Wisconsin is also helping tenants.

People needing assistance under the new program can call (414)-892-RENT (7368) or go to evictionfreemke.org

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