Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Continues Rent Assistance, Adds Legal Help

County spends millions on assistance and adds right to counsel for those facing eviction.

By - Jul 19th, 2021 06:01 pm
Homes along N. 17th St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Homes along N. 17th St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County is continuing its rental assistance programs that began early in the pandemic as it continues to see a high demand from residents facing eviction.

In a recent report to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, the county’s Housing Division reported that it had spent down all the money allocated for rental assistance from the federal stimulus package passed in late December.

The county has contracted with the local non-profit Community Advocates since June 2020 to process rental assistance applications and disburse payments. The organization has used all $6.7 million in rental assistance funds the county provided from its $10.6 million Emergency Rental Assistance Program allocation.

In fact, the organization has provided so many rental assistance payments to county residents that it has a deficit on ERA funds. Community Advocates provided $2.6 million more rental assistance payments on top of its $6.7 million allocation. This comes from the latest report out of the county’s housing division on rental assistance efforts.

It did this with approval from the county, because the state provided the county with an additional $12.6 million in ERA funds out of its own allocation, as James Mathy, director of the Housing Division, told the County Board’s Health Equity, Human Needs and Strategic Planning committee on June 14th.

The county also allocated $2.25 million to the non-profit Hope House, to provide rental assistance and case management to renters that are already receiving assistance from the City of Milwaukee Housing Authority or the Milwaukee County Housing Authority.

There is a second round of funding under the federal ERA program, which the county is applying for. In May, the housing division sought to apply for and accept approximately $8.4 million in ERA funds directly from the U.S. Treasury Department.

It’s good news that Community Advocates has been effectively distributing the rental assistance funds, Mathy said. “The bad news is that shows you how much of a demand there is for individuals that are still facing eviction.”

Renters themselves are noticing the massive demand for rental assistance. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism recently reported accounts from renters in Milwaukee that waited months to hear back about rental assistance applications, or to receive payments.

Mathy has repeatedly stressed the great demand for rental assistance in his reports to the county board. The division estimates that the funds it has put into rental assistance have prevented as many as 8,500 evictions. But evictions in Milwaukee County continue, nonetheless.

These rental assistance payments are primarily going to households that “fall under extremely low income levels,” Mathy said. The majority are also going to Black residents and women that are the primary breadwinner in their household. 

Community Advocates is still taking applications, Mathy said, and it will have funding for rental assistance through the summer and into the fall. The county is also hoping to receive even more funding from the state for rental assistance, “Our goal is to keep this program going,” Mathy said.

‘Right to Counsel’ During Eviction Proceedings

The county will soon roll out another program aimed at preventing evictions. On Monday, County Executive David Crowley signed legislation funding a “Right to Counsel” pilot program for all county residents facing eviction. The resolution was sponsored by Supervisor Ryan Clancy.

“I’m thankful that this important right has the support of County Executive Crowley and I am excited to see the positive impact it will have on families and individuals,” Clancy said in a press release after the county executive signed his resolution. “When we prioritize spending on human needs, the effects are enormous and far-reaching.”

Beginning in September, low-income residents facing eviction will have access to representation by an attorney throughout the entire legal process.

The county is funding the initial program with more than $916,000 in federal stimulus funding. The resolution authorizing the program, passed by the board, also states it will allocate an additional $1.8 million to run the program through 2022 at a later date. The United Way of Milwaukee has also pledged $1.54 million over five years to contribute to the program.

“Eviction curtails access to safe, affordable housing from reputable landlords and perpetuates the cycle of poverty for generations,” the county executive said in a press release. “Right to Counsel provides an additional resource for residents to maintain housing security and avoid the negative impacts of eviction.”

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