Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Proposal Funds Attorneys For Tenants Facing Evictions

Supervisor Ryan Clancy pushes "Right to Counsel" program to serve 14,000 households.

By - May 21st, 2021 10:12 am
Milwaukee County Courthouse

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee County could have a program providing free legal counsel to residents facing eviction by July.

Supervisor Ryan Clancy told Urban Milwaukee he has drafted a resolution that would allocate funding to a county “Right to Counsel” program for residents facing eviction and foreclosure. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates the program would provide help more than 14,000 households in Milwaukee.

During the 2021 budget process, Clancy sponsored an amendment that requested the county DHHS to analyze potential ways for the county to establish a “Right to Counsel” program. The amendment specified the program would only be for residents in the 53206 ZIP code, which has the most evictions in the county and children under the age of 18 at the time of the eviction.

DHHS recently completed the report and it points to highly successful examples of similar programs around the country and indicates that a program in Milwaukee could greatly reduce evictions, subsequently producing a number of positive downstream effects.

The report also said the United Way of Milwaukee has pledged to contribute $1.5 million over five years to the program. In an interview with Urban Milwaukee, Clancy noted, “It’s really rare to find the private funding coming before the public commitment.”

The county recently received approximately $21 million in state and federal emergency funding for COVID-19 related housing efforts. Clancy said his resolution would use some of the federal funding to operate the program for approximately a year and a half, beginning in July and running the entirety of 2022.

Right to Counsel (RTC) programs around the country boast excellent results, according to the DHHS report. One of the most successful programs is in Cleveland. “Since enacting RTC, Cleveland’s data shows that 93 percent of tenants were able to avoid evictions or involuntary moves, 83 percent that were seeking additional time to move were granted it, and 89 percent seeking to mitigate damages were able to do so.”

In San Francisco, eviction filings dropped 10% after the program was implemented, and housing retention went up 67%, according to the report. 

DHHS estimates the county would need approximately $2,052,915 for the first twelve months of the program. The expense, Clancy said, would be a “really incredibly efficient use of resources,” to fight evictions. The DHHS report appears to concur. It references a study of evictions in Milwaukee County that shows a return on investment of $2.23 in savings to local government for every $1 spent providing counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction.

A similar study by Stout Risius Ross, LLC., an international investment bank and advisory firm, and commissioned by the Philadelphia Bar Association, found that the displacement and disruption of eviction costs local governments more money down the road.

RTC programs are about keeping people in their housing as opposed to helping them once they lose their housing, Clancy said. Preventing eviction, he said, makes it more likely that a person will hang on to their job, and leads to better performance in school for their children and it prevents the traumatic experience of being evicted.

[inariclead ad=”UM-In-Article-2″]In Milwaukee, only 3% of tenants have legal representation during an eviction proceeding; the families most at risk of eviction are largely Black and Latino residents in low-income areas; and in white neighborhoods, Black women, Latino families and families with children are disproportionately evicted, according to the DHHS report.

The county would partner with Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee to staff the program with 12 attorneys. It would also fund intake specialists, a cross-referral counselor to connect tenants and landlords with other housing resources and a social worker to provide support and facilitate access to other social services.

“Right To Counsel Milwaukee (RTCM) would establish a new system to interrupt, delay or prevent eviction proceedings,” the report said, “which would improve the economic, mental and physical health of over 14,000 households.”

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One thought on “MKE County: Proposal Funds Attorneys For Tenants Facing Evictions”

  1. SiddyMonty says:

    Good idea…especially in a focused zip code. Helping people avoid chaos in their lives is huge!

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