As the Jan. 31 deadline nears for the end of the federal eviction moratorium, housing advocates and landlords alike are optimistic about Milwaukee residents having stable housing.
The moratorium was enacted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and put in place on Sept. 4, 2020. The emergency order was intended to halt the spread of COVID–19 and seasonal influenza and to reduce the increased risk of homeless shelters becoming overcrowded in fall and winter.
When the original deadline, Dec. 31, was approaching, housing advocates were concerned — but this time around, they said there is reason to believe more aid is coming.
They attribute their optimism to the passage of federal relief at the end of December. It included $25 billion in temporary rent assistance (funds that also had a bit more flexibility than in earlier programs) and extended the moratorium through January.
“It is anticipated that the Biden administration will extend the moratorium further, so that is good news, too,” said Kristi Luzar, the executive director at Urban Economic Development Association of Wisconsin. “Gives everyone a bit of breathing room.”
She said the federal relief bill includes a provision that state and local governments could keep any unspent CARES Act funds to spend through Dec. 31, 2021. “So, we’re hoping that applies to the funds allocated for rent assistance in 2020 but maybe weren’t spent.”
In addition to the help provided in the $900 billion relief bill passed in December, President-elect Joe Biden is proposing another $1.9 trillion relief package that would include rent relief and help for low-income families facing homelessness.
He also has called for extending further the nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures, according to a recent NBC News report.
What’s happening in Milwaukee
Despite the optimism that such actions inspire, evictions are still rolling in, with 130 eviction filings in Milwaukee County for the week of Jan. 4 through 8.
“As of now the moratorium will come to an end at the end of the month,” said Raphael Ramos, Eviction Defense Project director at Legal Action of Wisconsin. “There is no guarantee of an extension and that’s concerning.”
He said the best thing tenants can do now is communicate with their landlords.
“Both tenants and landlords are hurting,” he said. “Communication if you are applying for funds is the best thing to do.”
Others echo his sentiments.
“There are still some concerns about what post-January will look like,” said Deborah Heffner, housing strategy director with Community Advocates’ Public Policy Institute. “But there are reasons to be hopeful.”
Housing advocates are still preparing for the worst.
Ramos said Legal Action has services to help those facing eviction in court.
Also, the Rental Housing Resource Center space should be open to the public soon, Luzar said.
“Staff are already answering the hotline and email; we’re working on streamlining referrals now. The full website should be up by the end of February,” she said.
Heffner added that the Rental Housing Resource Center will be working with tenants and landlords on education and communication.
“We want to give some alternatives to filing evictions right away,” she said.
Other housing advocates are continuing work as normal.
“Since the eviction moratorium got extended through January 31, we are continuing to connect clients to available funding and represent individuals in evictions,” said Colleen Foley, the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee.
Housing advocates aren’t the only ones feeling optimistic about the new federal bill — landlords are, too.
“Both tenants and landlords can be optimistic about the new bill,” said Heiner Giese with the Apartment Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, a group of rental property owners that provides education, legislative support and networking opportunities for landlords in Southeastern Wisconsin. “The new bill will allow landlords to directly apply for assistance on behalf of their tenants.”
Giese said this will allow for more help to tenants with no access to internet or computers and weed out the minority of tenants who are misusing the moratorium.
Resources to consult if you’re worried about eviction
- Community Advocates rent helpline: 414-270-4646
- Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee: 414-727-5300
- Mediate Milwaukee: 414-939-8800
- Legal Action of Wisconsin: 855-947-2529
- Social Development Commission: 414-906-2700
Check out our Instagram Story on “Milwaukee resources to help you avoid evictions.”