MILWAUKEE — In Milwaukee, approximately 40 people are evicted from their homes per day and one out of eight renters are evicted every two years. The vast majority of those driven from their residence are single mothers who spend roughly 70 percent of their income on housing, according to a Harvard sociologist.
“This is like the feminine equivalent of incarceration,” said Matthew Desmond, an associate professor of sociology and social sciences at Harvard University. “Families that are evicted from poor neighborhoods move to even worse neighborhoods. Eviction pushes families deeper into disadvantages.”
Desmond is the author of the 2016 bestseller “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” which explores his yearlong experience working with eight low-income families in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. Desmond was the keynote speaker and a member of the panel discussion during the Oct. 26 “Live in Hope” reception at the Milwaukee Athletic Club, attended by over 300 people to benefit the works of Mercy Housing Lakefront and St. Catherine Residence.
“The home is the center of life, it’s our refuge from work and living on the streets. Eviction causes loss, families lose not only their home but also their possessions, kids lose their school and they lose their community. Eviction comes in as a blemish and erases all of that,” said Desmond.
Also participating in the panel, moderated by Meg Kissinger, a visiting professor at Columbia University and a long-time investigative reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, was Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Joy Tapper, executive director for the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, and Vincent Lyles, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
“It is one of the most sobering books I’ve ever read in my life not only because of the topic but because it’s about our city and the challenges we face in our city,” said Mayor Tom Barrett during the opening remarks of the event. “I’m not pleased with some of the things that you (Desmond) saw in our city, but if we want to be honest with each other we have to have people who will seek the truth.”[su_pullquote align=”right”]Mercy Housing, Inc.
residences in Wisconsin
• St. Catherine Residence (1032 E. Knapp St., Milwaukee)
• Greenwich Park (Farwell Ave. and Thomas St., Milwaukee)
• McAuley Apartments (1018 E. Knapp St., Milwaukee)
• Johnston Center (2150 S. 13th St., Milwaukee)
• Jefferson Court (415 E. Knapp St., Milwaukee)
• Assisi Homes of Neenah (210 Byrd Ave., Neenah)
• Marian Housing Center (4105 Spring St., Racine)
• Assisi Homes of Kenosha (1860 27th Ave., Kenosha)
• Saxony Manor (1850 22nd Ave., Kenosha) [/su_pullquote]
Mercy Housing Lakefront is one of the largest affordable housing development organizations in Milwaukee and Chicago that provides quality homes for families, seniors and people with special needs who lack economic resources. The organization has developed and manages 28 affordable rental properties that serve more than 4,000 residents.
Last April, Denver-based Mercy Housing, Inc. announced it accepted a transfer of 33 properties, five of them in Wisconsin, from Franciscan Ministries, Inc. Once the acquisition is finalized, Mercy Housing Lakefront will own and manage eight properties in Wisconsin.
“Our vision is to alleviate the impacts of poverty and to create healthy communities to improve the well-being of residents of low to moderate income,” said Mark Angelini, president for Mercy Housing Lakefront in a Nov. 4 telephone interview with the Catholic Herald. “Our three touch points are respect, justice and mercy. We live it out by being very grounded in the work we do and unabashedly advocating for the needs and inherent dignity of people; at our core we are very consistent with the principles that come out of Catholic social justice.”
Preceding the panel discussion, Tamara Wilder, a resident of St. Catherine Residence, gave a testimonial.
“In 2012, I lost my job due to an illness and I became disabled. This caused me to go into a deep depression because I could no longer provide for my daughter and also being in a domestically violent relationship made this more challenging,” said Wilder. “In the past year-and-a-half (after moving into St. Catherine Residence) I have gained so much self-confidence, I have gained control of my depression, I have learned the importance of having a forgiving heart with my faith in God.”
According to a study conducted by Desmond, “Moms who get evicted experience high rates of depression two years later; it’s sticky.”
From 2005 to 2010, the housing rates in America soared while the eviction rates across the country doubled.
“Housing is a key determinant of health in our community,” said Tapper. “Access to clinical care and medical care influences about 20 percent of health outcomes, whereas built environment, housing and social economics drives about 40 percent of health outcomes.”
The panel noted many factors that impact affordable housing in Milwaukee, including: income stagnation, inflation, cost of building construction and maintenance, procedural problems in housing court and the stigma of renting to someone with a criminal record and previous evictions.
“This is not the same town I grew up in, we have to be better; it’s the system that’s wrong and needs to be addressed,” said Lyles. “We talk about what Milwaukee used to be, instead of what Milwaukee could be.”
“Home is not just a structure; it’s the stability and predictability of knowing you can come back to some place where you belong,” said Abele. “If you are at poverty (level) or receiving Medicare or Medicaid, you are spending at least 70 percent of your income on housing; it doesn’t take too many instances to fall out of that cycle.”
Desmond acknowledged there are many layers in the Milwaukee community to consider before affordable housing can be more accessible but he cited extending emergency assistance to families in need and providing landlord-tenant mediation services as necessary avenues of change.
“One thing is certain, this degree of inequality, and this blunting of human capability, this full denial of basic needs, this tolerance for social suffering; this isn’t us, this doesn’t have to be us,” said Desmond. “By no American value is this situation justified; there is no code, piece of Scripture, holy teaching that can be summoned to allow for this.”