A Milwaukee collaboration aimed at reducing housing evictions is being launched Monday. The Rental Housing Resource Center is billed as a one-stop shop for renters and landlords who need help in providing or maintaining stable rental housing.
There's currently a moratorium on evictions in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that ban is scheduled to end a month from now, and the same goes for some federal rental assistance money for people who have lost income due to the coronavirus.
So, Kristi Luzar, of the Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin, says her organization and eight others in the Milwaukee area are banding together to give troubled renters a central place to call for help.
"Sometimes people struggle with, ‘Where do I start? What's the first thing I need to do?’ The goal of the center is to help people with that process,” Luzar told WUWM.
Luzar says when the center is fully up and running January 1, 2021, a tenant could call or fill out an online form that would go to an intake specialist who would help determine if the renter needs financial assistance, legal advice or perhaps a mediator if the landlord is also willing to sit down and try to work things out.
Three legal groups — Mediate Wisconsin, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, and Legal Action Wisconsin — that often help renters are part of the collaboration, as are the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, the social service agency IMPACT, Inc., and the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin.
Luzar hopes landlords use the resource center to help learn there are often alternatives to filing an eviction with the courts.
"Maybe they reach some sort of resolution prior to that, whether the resolution is something everybody wants, maybe everybody feels a little bit better given that the previous tool — filing a court process — isn't always the best option,” Luzar said.
The ninth member of the collaboration is the social service agency Community Advocates, which will house the center in downtown Milwaukee. Besides socially distanced meetings and other resources, the center will offer computers that will allow people to attend virtual eviction hearings.
Deb Heffner of Community Advocates says sociologist Matthew Desmond's 2016 book Evicted highlighted rental housing problems in Milwaukee. A 2018 Wisconsin Policy Forum report took a closer look. Heffner says stakeholders have been working ever since on solutions to a potential threat to hundreds of thousands of people in the area.
"Over 50% of Milwaukee County residents rent currently. There are great strides toward home ownership. But in the meantime, while there are renters, it's important they are able to be able to pay their rent,” Heffner says.
Various foundations, endowments and government agencies have provided financial support for the Rental Housing Resource Center, but more fundraising is under way.