By Heiner Giese, AASEW Legal Counsel
Right to Counsel
AASEW legal counsel Heiner Giese and Board member Tim Ballering have analyzed the recent report on Legal Aid and Legal Action's right-to-counsel (RTC) program in Milwaukee. The analysis was submitted to a 35 member group of judges, court commissioners, tenant advocates and social service organizations at its April 10 meeting. The group meets bimonthly on the topic of eviction diversion.
Tim Ballering and I have some comments on the Stout Risius report analyzing the right-to-counsel (RTC) program being run by Legal Aid and Legal Action (called EFM for EvictionFreeMke).
The author Neil Steinkamp did a much better job in soliciting input from housing providers than was done in his reports on RTC in Connecticut and Cleveland, also released just recently. Colleen Foley and I can claim some credit for that because a discussion we had last summer led to us inviting Steinkamp to conduct the forum in Milwaukee last September which featured an exchange of ideas between owners, attorneys from both sides and social service agencies.
The biggest shortcoming of the Milwaukee RTC report (and also for Connecticut and Cleveland) is that rent losses of owners in RTC cases are not researched. I have mentioned this in emails to Meagan, Neil and to Samira Nazem, the NCSC liaison:
One of the gripes Tim B. and I have with Neil's eviction studies . . . is that Neil says researching landlord losses has not been within the scope of a study on the benefits of Right to Counsel. Stout has now done these studies in numerous jurisdictions. Follow up studies are planned in many of them. Federal dollars are used, at least in part, to pay Stout for its work. It is only fair and necessary that future Stout eviction reports give an analysis of the economic costs to housing providers and not just an analysis of the benefits to tenants or governments.
[Tim B.’s observation about this today: Rent loss and the impact on housing due to these losses are more easily quantifiable than out-of-home foster care costs, economic value preserved by reducing migration out of Milwaukee County, cost savings related to housing social safety net responses, retained federal and state funding for Milwaukee Public Schools and cost savings related to Medicaid spending on health care. The alleged positive economic impact of migration out of Milwaukee County and on the Public Schools ignores that others would occupy the units if the RtC clients were evicted.]
Other comments we made regarding Stout’s methods were these:
Tim B. and I believe that the Stout reports on RTC should more strongly emphasize its adverse effects on “good” tenants – especially those of the same income class as persons being evicted – when rental property owners tighten their screening criteria or require increased security deposits because RTC results in delays and more unpaid rent. A resolution to this problem would be to set aside a portion of the money designated for lawyers ($20M just announced by HUD for 2023!!) for whatever weeks of “delay” RTC secures for the tenant to find new housing.
With Milwaukee experiencing record-low vacancies, hold-over renters reduce housing opportunities for others with similar housing needs.
Sealing Eviction Records
The topic of sealing eviction court records is going to get more attention. Tim B. has pointed out that while sealing can help the evicted tenant secure new housing it will have an unintended consequence for the tenants who are now competing with this person for housing in a very tight rental market.
For example, say tenant Alan with monthly income of $2400 applies for housing. Tenant Bob with income of $2200 applies the same day. Alan had two evictions in the last three years which were sealed and not known to the owner screening them both. Bob has never been evicted. The owner will logically pick Alan because of his higher income and supposed better ability to pay rent. Bob will lose out and have to keep looking for housing.
Finally, Tim B. and I are shaking our heads over Gov. Evers’ proposal in his budget bill housing package to pay $66 million to lawyers for RTC in the next biennium! The Governor did a great job in administering and distributing the ERAP money during the pandemic but, c’mon, lawyers??
How about we change that to $60M for tenants who fall behind on their rent and the remaining $6M for the RTC lawyers to settle those cases and get that money to landlords in exchange for a dismissal of the eviction?