Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Estimates It Prevented Evictions for 12,000 Households

Rental assistance program begun in 2020 awarded $15 million more in federal funds.

By - Nov 8th, 2022 11:58 am
File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County has received $15 million in federal funding for an emergency rental assistance program that it says has prevented eviction for 12,000 unique households.

“Housing is key social determinant of health and the Emergency Rental Assistance funds have helped keep thousands of residents in their homes since June of 2020,” County Executive David Crowley said in a statement Monday.

The U.S. Department of Treasury has awarded the county another $15 million through the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program funded in part through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The county began providing direct rental assistance payments at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was begun with $10 million from the county’s allocation of funding under the federal CARES Act. Since then, the county has distributed more than $64 million in emergency rental assistance payments through the ERA2 program, which allows residents to receive up to 18 months of assistance.

“Program data demonstrates funds distributed went to population traditionally the most at risk of eviction,” according to the statement from the county executive’s office. “74% of households that received assistance had an income… less than 30% of the annual median income in Milwaukee County. 76% of households were African American or Black; and 76% of recipients identified their gender as Female.”

In February, the county received $50 million in rental assistance funds. At that time, James Mathy, Milwaukee County Housing Division Administrator, said the county had been spending, on average, $1 million a week. The demand, he said, suggested the scale of need for housing assistance in the county. Deb Heffner, housing strategy director for Community Advocates, said the organization was getting approximately 300 applications a week for assistance.

Along with direct rent payments, Community Advocates was using rental assistance funds for case managers to help households try to address the root issues that have left them struggling to pay rent. Heffner told Urban Milwaukee in February that her organization saw many families that remain at-risk of eviction after assistance runs out. “We’re seeing a lot of re-applications,” she said.

The Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been implementing a new model for providing services, like rental assistance, called No Wrong Door, that should allow someone to gain access to the program no matter where they encounter or connect to the county’s human services system. “Sustaining our rental assistance program means that anyone who needs help staying in their home can and will be served no matter how they enter the system,” said DHHS Director Shakita LaGrant-McClain.

In 2021, the county launched the Right to Counsel program to provide free legal counsel for people facing eviction. This was another housing initiative kickstarted with federal pandemic funds. It began as a pilot program in 2021, and along with funding from the county, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha committed $1.5 million over five years to the program. The county executive’s office stated that the percentage of tenants facing eviction with legal representation has gone from 3% to 25% since the start of the program.

Currently the county is working to get two housing projects off the ground. One of them will develop affordable housing in Milwaukee suburbs and the other will build up to 120 new homes for first-time homebuyers.

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