New York City's Right to Counsel law helps stem the epidemic of evictions, and provides a blueprint for Milwaukee

October 20, 2020

Stable, affordable housing is a top indicator of family success and upward mobility, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. But too often, it's hard to come by.

Housing instability, and the trauma it inflicts on families and children, has become a central theme in national discussions about an array of social ills, from poverty to homelessness to educational failure.

One in four Milwaukee children change schools annually, a Journal Sentinel examination found, and some schools see 40% annual turnover in students, making continuity in learning impossible. Rampant turnover lowers test scores, even for students who don’t move, and thwarts the development of nurturing relationships that could help students advance and break generational cycles of poverty. 

Each year, roughly 14,000 evictions take place in Milwaukee County courts. Once renters have an eviction on their record, it's harder for them to find a safe place to live.

Instead, many wind up in poorly-maintained apartments and flats run by landlords who have built evictions, fees and assessments into their business models.

While it's generally accepted that renters should spend no more than 30% of their income on housing, roughly 50% of all Milwaukee renters spend more than that. That can crush any chance of saving money and developing economic mobility.

"Every time we evict someone, we displace the whole family," said Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Pedro Colón. "It's like a symbolic bomb on the family. It disperses these children. Then you have to look for housing elsewhere and you may not find it in that school zone."

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