Although a program in Milwaukee County that helped tenants facing eviction find legal representation saw major successes, local housing advocates feel that far more is needed. “It’s still kind of a drip in the bucket,” Joshua Taylor, an organizer with the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU) told Wisconsin Examiner. “It’s a positive reform, but we also still need more of a systemic change.”
Called Eviction Free MKE, the program was launched as a pilot in September 2021 with $3 million in funding from Milwaukee County, the city and the United Way of Milwaukee and Waukesha. Tenants facing eviction were represented by attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee and Legal Action of Wisconsin. From its launch to December 2022, the program was evaluated by Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm that was contracted by United Way.
The report, which was released in late March, found that representation for tenants during eviction proceedings rose from 2-3% prior to the program’s launch to 6-16%. Evictions were prevented in 76% of cases, and eviction records sealed in 72%. In 70% of cases, attorneys were able to prevent the tenant from being forced to move involuntarily. Furthermore, the report found that a majority of evictions (63%) that were filed during the program were in majority-Black census tracts, and that 78% of the program’s clients were Black women. By comparison, less than 30% of Milwaukee County’s residents are Black, and about 50% are women.
Taylor has seen women repeatedly play critical roles in tenant organizing. “The most gung ho, the most willing go and not only make change for themselves but everyone in their building, or neighborhood, or community, it’s usually women who are