Milwaukee County launches pilot program to provide free representation to residents facing eviction or foreclosure

Milwaukee County residents facing eviction or foreclosure will be entitled to free legal representation until the end of 2022, in a pilot program funded in part by federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

It follows similar programs in Cleveland and New York, where more people have been able to stay in their homes through legal representation.

“This will allow families to have some stability, to ensure that they can focus on their studies, concentrate on their work, all of the social determinants of health that make us healthy and safe in our neighborhoods” said David Crowley, County Milwaukee. Executive.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors approved the pilot program with broad support late last month and Crowley signed the measure on Monday afternoon. Its launch is scheduled for September 1.

United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties has committed $ 1.5 million to the $ 3 million pilot program. Right to Counsel Milwaukee, a partnership between United Way and the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, will provide 12 lawyers specializing in housing law.

“What (the pandemic) did, I think, was get people to act with more haste, with more determination, not just like, ‘Well, that’s something we could do. do, “but” let’s do it, “” said Nicole Angresano, vice president of community impact for United Way Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

Milwaukee recorded 56,420 evictions between 2016 and 2020, according to Track Milwaukee Evictions. When a tenant is represented by a lawyer, 90% of eviction cases are rejected or delayed, but only 3% of families facing an eviction in a typical year are represented, according to data from the Milwaukee Eviction Defense Project .

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“Tenants who experience eviction, they go through trauma,” said Raphael Ramos, director of Wisconsin’s Legal Action of Eviction Defense Project. “You ask people in the midst of trauma, in the midst of a cataclysm, to go out and make reasoned decisions and defend themselves adequately.”

Ramos said there is an inherent power imbalance in most eviction proceedings between owners, who are more likely to have the resources and experience to better defend themselves during an eviction. , while tenants are generally less familiar with housing law.

Angresano, with United Way, said giving tenants the tools to fight evictions might not only benefit tenants.

“We believe the owners benefit as well,” she said. “We need to find ways to negotiate, to charge rents, so that landlords can make a living and tenants can be treated with respect and dignity, and we believe this is a fundamental policy for let that happen. “

Although the program is only funded for the next year and a half so far, Angresano and others are hoping it will become permanent. Crowley, the county executive, said if Milwaukee County is to prioritize how it uses limited funding, the eviction representation project could help save money in the long run.

“When we talk about investing money up front, these are the types of programs we are talking about – making sure we don’t spend more money than we have on the back of the problems,” Crowley said.

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