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City Leaders Address Desperate Need For Rent Assistance In Milwaukee

Maayan Silver
Katherine MacDonald, a student at MATC, needed rental assistance after she lost income during the pandemic and urged the Milwaukee Common Council to accept an additional $17 million in federal funds for rental assistance.

There could soon be help for some people struggling to pay rent because COVID has cut into their income. The Milwaukee Common Council will vote Tuesday on whether to accept $17 million in federal funding from the latest COVID relief bill.

That money would add to the nearly $16 million dollars for renters in the city, already earmarked from the CARES Act.

But, while the funding will help many, city officials say it’s not enough to assist everyone facing eviction.

South side Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa said some people have been able to keep jobs in pandemic by working remotely, but she knows many who’ve lost work and who rely on minimum wage jobs.

“Many of my constituents are those essential workers who never got to use Zoom to go to work,” she said. “They're still putting on their uniform and go into work every morning. They're those renters that need the help to make sure that they can get through this pandemic."

Zamarripa and others gathered at city hall Monday to urge the Milwaukee Common Council to vote to accept $17 million in federal funding Tuesday. It’s designed to help renters facing eviction and homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

The money would be distributed by the Social Development Commission (SDC), said Common Council President Cavalier Johnson.

“Now, for folks who may have a question about how it's going to work, we're going to use that money to help supplement the programming that we already have in place via the SDC working to disperse those funds to renters in the city of Milwaukee who need access to funding to stay into their homes, right now,” he said.

Colleen Foley of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee said the importance of the funding can’t be overstated.

“I don't use this phrase very often,” she explained. “But it is a no brainer. It's not close whatsoever. It's a game changer for families who are in need to stay out of eviction court and stay safely in their homes during a an unprecedented global health pandemic.”

Foley said more than 13,000 homes received assistance through eviction prevention funding in Milwaukee last year.

“It was $28.6 million in temporary rent assistance that was distributed to 13,025 households, averaging $1500 to $2800 per household. And that those monies are critical," she said.

Foley said the money kept families out of already-overwhelmed shelter facilities. She added there have been thousands of eviction filings in Milwaukee County Circuit since June.

Those are temporarily on hiatus. The Centers for Disease Control has halted evictions nationwide through March 31. Foley said that’s not long enough.

“We all know that we're all talking about the summer or the fall, if we're lucky to be in better shape on this pandemic. So, it needs to be extended out well beyond March 31,” said Foley.

Mayor Tom Barrett said the city is going to have to work with the state or federal governments to get that additional time.

“I know that there is legislation on the books right now that really limits our ability as a local government to act on our own, which is a very, very unfortunate,” he said.

In the meantime, Barrett said he’s all for additional funding or legislation that gives state and local governments more time to spend previously allocated money.

And he said the money the city is expected to get through the latest allotment from the federal COVID Relief Act is a step in the right direction, but only part of the way.

“Thirty-two million dollars is a significant — it starts filling the bucket, but it's certainly more than a drop in the bucket. But it does not fill the bucket, if that helps at all,” he explained.

Barrett, along with several people who spoke at the press conference, also urged Congress to pass the nearly $2 trillion aid package that includes more aid to struggling renters and homeowners.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
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