In 2008, Matthew Desmond began studying eviction and poverty here in Milwaukee. That research became the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which explores the impact of evictions on Milwaukee’s most vulnerable communities. Now, Milwaukee is once again staring down an eviction crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in soaring unemployment and eviction filings are beginning to mount.
After publishing Evicted, Desmond founded the Eviction Lab and created the first dataset of evictions in the U.S. Matt Mleczko is a Wisconsin native and a graduate research assistant with the Eviction Lab. He says between 2009 and 2011, about one in eight Milwaukee renters were removed or evicted from their homes.
“This is also a crisis that is very racially patterned. Evictions tend to concentrate in Black neighborhoods in Milwaukee, and if you were to go to eviction court hearings in a typical month in Milwaukee, 75% of the defendants would be Black and 75% of those defendants would be women. So, this is an issue that has been shown to disproportionately affect Black women,” Mleczko says.
Early in the pandemic, an eviction moratorium was put in place to halt the processing of evictions and hopefully keep people in their homes. Mleczko says this was fairly effective, but since the moratorium was lifted at the end of May, there have been spikes in evictions. Local groups have worked to provide rental assistance and promote meditation between renters and tenets instead of evictions, but he says that just isn’t enough.
“People are working very diligently to keep people housed, but this is an issue that is bigger than the city of Milwaukee. It really requires federal action to step in,” says Mleczko.
President Trump did sign a recent executive order targeted at evictions. But Mleczko says it mostly directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to look into if a national eviction moratorium would help slow the spread of COVID-19.
As evictions have begun again in Milwaukee, court proceedings are being conducted virtually. This has posed challenges for tenets who don’t have access to proper internet. If renters can’t use Zoom, they are allowed to call in on their phone, but this makes it impossible to show evidence.
“The process moving online isn’t as seamless as a lot of people perhaps might think it is and it does raise some concerns,” says Mleczko.