Margaret Rozga, poet, civil rights activist and professor emerita of English at UW-Waukesha, writes that the recent action by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to expand the fair housing law builds community and counters chaos on the national level.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King asked in the title of his 1967 book, the last one he wrote before his assassination, a question that presses hard upon us even today: “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” On a national level, especially with the cruel and inhumane treatment of migrants and people seeking asylum at our southern border, the answer now seems to be that we’re being pushed headlong into chaos. While I would not and do not underestimate this danger, among the ways I see to push back is keep at least one hand engaged in sowing the seeds of community on the local level.
Emphasis on what is possible locally keeps alive hope for building the inclusive community we need. The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors took an important community-affirming step at its June 21 meeting by approving a measure that ends discrimination against people who have rent assistance vouchers. This amendment to the county’s fair housing law adds protection for people who receive rent assistance to the categories such as race, sex, sexual orientation and disability that are already protected.
Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, original sponsor of this proposal, said her goal was to create a policy that everyone could be enthusiastic about. She worked with groups such as the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin on their concerns, especially about a time lag in the process of approving a unit for inclusion in the program. After she revised the proposal to address their concerns, it won approval from the Economic and Community Development committee prior to coming before the full county board. At the board meeting, six additional supervisors asked to be listed as co-sponsors.
The Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP, the Office of African American Affairs, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council and the March On Milwaukee 50th Anniversary Coordinating Committee were among those who wrote letters of support to the county or who spoke in favor of the measure at meetings of the Economic and Community Development committee.
As a person who marched for fair housing over 50 years ago and someone who helped organize support for this proposal, I heartily applaud the outcome. I thank the members of the county board for their attentive consideration to this community-building measure. At the committee meetings, first Supervisor Steve Taylor and then Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson did an admirable job as committee chairs, making sure that everyone who wanted to speak was heard and that everyone stayed on point. Likewise, County Board Chair Theodore Lipscomb ran an efficient and fair meeting, not an easy task with 53 items on the agenda.
Of course, I especially want to thank the 12 supervisors who voted for this proposal. I also want to thank County Executive Chris Abele who said he will sign this measure and who praised Supervisor Dimitrijevic for her leadership on this matter.
In a time when our community is being cited as one of the most segregated and when the Department of Housing and Urban Development fails in its legal responsibility to affirmatively further fair housing, this local affirmation is particularly important. Columnist Thomas Friedman writes in his June 26 New York Times op-ed that the most hopeful work he sees generating “idealism and solidarity” today comes from doing “hard things together in the community.” I think the county board’s approval of this fair housing proposal serves as an example.
Let us not lose hope in the midst of chaos being created on the national level. Let us continue in ways small and large, local as well as national, to build the inclusive community we need.