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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Month: June 2016

Wider Impacts of Nuisance Laws on Low-Income Renters

A recent article from NPR (that was also heard on NPR’s show All Things Considered) focuses on the impacts of nuisance laws enforced in cities across America on low-income renters who are also victims of crime and domestic abuse.

Nuisance laws have been instated in cities and towns across the country in an attempt to reduce the amount of crime in communities (but especially in areas with rental properties). The specifics differ based on location, but nuisance laws essentially put a limit on the number of times the police can be called to a rental property (“for ‘disorderly behavior'”) in a specific time period before the property’s landlord gets fined and potentially has his or her rental license suspended.

These laws have very real consequences for tenants of rental properties in communities enforcing such practices. One common outcome of nuisance laws is eviction, which Matthew Desmond discusses in his book Evicted.

The article includes the story of a woman named Lakisha Briggs, who was a victim of frequent domestic abuse and was evicted from her rental property in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after the police were called to her apartment twice. Briggs was always “reluctant to call the police when her boyfriend beat her up” after being told by her landlord that she had had “one strike” after the police were called to her apartment the first time.

However, one night Briggs’s boyfriend “slit her neck open with a broken ashtray” after a fight, prompting the police to arrive and Briggs to be airlifted to the hospital. She was evicted after recovering in the hospital.

Her landlord  told her “he didn’t want to throw her out, but if he didn’t, he’d be fined $1,000 a day” due to the nuisance laws in effect in Norristown.

Nuisance laws have contributed to the evictions of tenants in situations similar to Briggs’s in cities and towns across America.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

Addressing Homelessness and Affordable Housing in Madison

The Wisconsin State Journal’s series on homelessness in Madison includes an article entitled “Madison, Dane County move slowly on big responses to homelessness” that discusses some of the steps taken to address homelessness in the city.

The Dane County Homeless Services Consortium is putting together a “single priority list” in order to “place the most vulnerable [homeless individuals] in public, nonprofit and private housing units” and off the streets. Debra Scott, 57,  “suffered the daily indignities of the homeless and was also in poor health, needing hospitalization and two surgeries, eventually with no place to recover but her 2006 Dodge Caravan. After a year on the streets, she placed near the top on a new community list that prioritizes cases based on the length of time being homeless, disability and the risk of serious harm or death.”

Scott now lives in an apartment on the North Side of Madison, where she pays 30 percent of her income in rent and the Community Action Coalition pays the rest. Scott says, “In my whole life I’ve never, ever had such a place. I absolutely love it here. It’s quiet. People are respectful. There’s no drug trafficking going on. I’m lucky…I’m grateful. I’m grateful every day.”

While Scott’s story is ultimately one of hope, the article goes on to discuss the overwhelming need for affordable housing and opportunities for the homeless to live indoors (not just shelters or on the streets) across Madison.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

 

Displaced Tenants Struggle to Find Housing in Madison

A group of investors recently purchased rental housing units on Madison’s Southwest Side, causing many current tenants to be forced out due to increases in rent and stricter tenant screening, according to an article from Wisconsin State Journal.

The article states that “the new owners took to upgrading the units while also raising the rents and tightening the leasing standards. They told neighbors they intend to turn around a troubled area, and they are doing just that, many say approvingly. Yet the improvements have come with a cost. Many leases have been terminated, thrusting some people, including children, into homelessness.”

Tenants in the Orchard Village Apartments complex were required to reapply at the end of their leases, and many of these tenants have received non-renewals of their leases as a result.

The article touches briefly on the racial inequalities at play in this process, echoing much of what Matthew Desmond observes in Evicted about the racially charged rental market in Milwaukee. One of the women interviewed for the article, who was received a non-renewal of her lease, said “she can’t help noticing that almost all of the tenants not renewed have been black, while the new residents moving in, at least in her building, have been white.” The new owner of the apartment complex has denied this statement.

Not everyone has been critical of the apartment complex’s new owner, however. One tenant, now in her third year living at Orchard Village, said that “I’m liking the changes…things had become really chaotic and a lot of stuff was going on. I had a break-in, and there were shootings.”

The new ownership of many of these apartment complexes on Madison’s Southwest Side will certainly bring many more changes to the neighborhood, potentially both positive and negative.

 

You can read the full article, entitled “Landlord walks fine line between ‘taking back the neighborhood’ and creating homelessness,” here.

Increasing Rent and the Struggle to Afford Rental Housing

A recent article from The Atlantic‘s City Lab discusses a report on the increasing difficulties that many American hourly workers face in affording rental housing. According to the article, demand for apartments in 2015 was at its “highest level ever since the 1960s,” with a myriad of factors contributing to this high demand and subsequent increases in rent, making affordable housing a nearly impossible reality for many Americans.

In order to spend only thirty percent of his or her income on rent, the American worker would need to make $20.30 per hour to rent a (modest/simple) two-bedroom apartment “comfortably” in 2016, according to the article. One of the largest issues in this situation is that the average hourly wage for American workers is $15.42, with the federal minimum wage still sitting at $7.25. The article states that “minimum-wage workers would have to work three jobs, or 112 hours a week, to be able to afford a decent two-bedroom accommodation…’If [an average] worker slept for eight hours per night, he or she would have no remaining time during the week for anything other than working and sleeping.'”

One-bedroom apartments are also not financially attainable for minimum wage workers who put in a 40 hour work week. The article provides maps and graphs showing the hourly wages workers would need to receive in each state in order to afford one and two-bedroom apartments, as well as how many hours they would need to work at minimum wage to afford one-bedroom apartments.

Hours worked at minimum wage needed to afford a one-bedroom unit. Photo from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Hours needed at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom unit. Photo from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In Wisconsin, where Matthew Desmond’s Evicted takes place, minimum wage workers would need to work 69 hours per week in order to comfortably afford (a.k.a. rent does not exceed 30 percent of income) a one-bedroom apartment. As seen in Evicted, it is difficult to work that many hours per week at a minimum-wage job (workers usually are not scheduled for that many hours), not to mention juggling any children, school, or family obligations that the worker might have. This article illustrates on a larger scale the issues of eviction, rent, and poverty that Desmond examines in Evicted and shows how these issues are at play across the country.

You can read the full article, entitled “The Hourly Wage Needed to Rent a 2-Bedroom Apartment Is Rising,” here.