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Month: November 2016

Links between Race & Eviction in Dane County

On the UW campus, the lunch hour tends to be a sacred refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a beloved time to sit and relax for students, professionals, and professors alike—an hour of time carved out between classes, studying, grant writing, emails, or intensive research to enjoy a pb&j, a food cart delicacy, or a State Street find. I often find myself chatting with a friend with pork buns in hand on Library Mall, relishing in the moment I have to forget about the stress of my day.

Pedestrians stop to purchase lunch or a quick snack from a number of food vendor carts set up along a walkway in Library Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during autumn on Sept. 30, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

The lunch rush at the food trucks on library mall. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

However, last month, professors, students, and community members sacrificed this meal time for a very worthy cause: to learn more about the eviction crisis in Dane County.

Evicted in Dane County: A Panel Discussion on the Relationship Between Eviction and Housing Vulnerability, an event co-sponsored by the UW Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the Go Big Read Program, was held in Memorial Union on Thursday, October 27. Over the lunch hour, the panel provided an opportunity to discuss the interconnections of race and eviction in our own backyard. Speakers included Rob Dicke, the Executive Director of Dane County Housing Authority (DCHA); Brenda Konkel, the Executive Director of the Tenant Resource Center (TRC); Heidi Wegleitner, District 2 County Supervisor and attorney at Legal Action of Wisconsin; and Mitch, an Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of the Neighborhood Law Clinic (NLC) at UW-Madison.

The panel was held in lieu of recent findings of a study by six UW-Madison graduate students and Revel Sims, an assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. The Dane County study, titled “Evicted in Dane County, Wisconsin: A Collaborative Examination of the Housing Landscape” reflected similar findings to the Milwaukee Area Renter’s Survey (MARS), which was conducted by Evicted author Matthew Desmond. Sims et al.’s research overwhelmingly found that “race is the most important factor in explaining evictions in Dane County,” with “most non-white neighborhoods showing rates well above the county average” (Doug Erickson, madison.com).

The study resulted from a collaborative effort between Sims and his students and the Tenant Resource Center (TRC) this past summer. The team interviewed and worked with key actors, like lawyers and tenants, and also accumulated eviction data in Dane County from the past 15 years. With such intensive and well-rounded research, the work provided significant insight into the Madison rental market and eviction situation on the basis of race and income.

Dane County, Wisconsin.

Dane County, Wisconsin.

Sims and his team found that there were 40,439 eviction court cases in Dane County from 2000 to 2015 alone, with an average of 2,527 cases per year (Evicted in Dane County, Wisconsin). Among these evictions, the top six block groups (“neighborhoods” so to speak) leading in eviction rates were among those with the most proportion of minority residents. As Wisconsin Public Radio shares, nine out of ten of the “most nonwhite neighborhoods in the county have an eviction filing rate well above average for block clusters between 600 and 3,000 people” (Avory Brookins, WPR). For instance, the block named Allied Drive, which is on the southwestern edge of Lake Monona, had the second most evictions in the 15 year period, with a total of 1,215 evictions; Allied Drive also had the second most non-white population, with 78.04% of the residents identified as non-white. Meanwhile, neighborhoods like Southdale/East Badger Road and Leopold claimed the seventh and eighth highest eviction rates in the city—between the two alone, there were 1,550 evictions in a 15 year period. Like the Allied Drive neighborhood, Southdale and Leopold blocks were also overwhelmingly non-white in population, with the second and third most non-white residents in the Madison area, respectively.

The sight of an eviction notice is more common for people of color than whites in Dane County.

The sight of an eviction notice is more common for people of color than whites in Dane County.

Most upsetting, however, is how the research notes not only the ongoing positive correlation between eviction and race, but also how eviction may provide a means to upholding neighborhood racial segregation. As the researchers explain, “block groups with the greatest number of evictions are often found directly adjacent to block groups that have some of the highest percentages of non-white residents”. This may suggest that “eviction may serve as a means to ‘police’ the boundaries between different communities and thus contribute to the overall pattern of racial segregation” (Evicted in Dane County, Wisconsin).

At the event, panelists delved deeper into the report’s findings and discussed the real world realities of overwhelming non-white evictions in the Madison area. Konkel, of the TRC, witnesses the housing difficulties of people of color first hand, sharing that her organization serves “50 to 60 percent people of color in [its] programs”. However, as she notes, considering Dane County is only around 15% non-white, the figures suggest that housing instability unjustly affects people of color more than whites (Avory Brookins, WPR). Her reality firmly supports Sims et al.’s data.

Eviction in dane county panelists

Panelists share their insight to the eviction situation in Dane County on October 27, 2016.

Meanwhile, panelists also grappled with the causes of non-white eviction levels. Some pointed to the unjust advantage landlords have in the legal system. Panelist Wegleitner said “the state court system’s online database, known as CCAP, is ‘a huge problem’ for many people trying to find housing because landlords often use the information to screen potential tenants” (Doug Erickson, madison.com). Eviction notices tend to be problematic because they remain in the system, visible to future landlords, even if the case was dropped or thrown out. This can lead to long-term housing difficulties for tenants, especially those of color who are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system; housing becomes more tenuous and eviction more likely. Other structural and social issues can also push people of color into poverty and, as a result, high levels of eviction.

Overall, Sims and the panelists shared that they were not surprised that the housing system is racially biased. As Sims shared in his own words, “we have a long history of racism in housing in this country” and “some of our most important legislation emerged to prevent it.” However, “to think it has gone away because of the 1968 Fair Housing Act[,] is ludicrous.” (Doug Erickson, madison.com).

Clearly much work still needs to be done to change the nature of the housing market for the better, especially here in our own backyard.

For more information on Revel Sims and his students’ findings, please check out their study, here.

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

(Cover photo credit: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr)

 

Art and Go Big Read: How Curriculum, Creativity, and Evicted Intersect on Campus

This week Wisconsin School of Business students and the Go Big Read program partnered to harness art as a means to further investigate the ideas presented in Go Big Read social justice texts. The result was 20 unique pieces of art, aimed to address social issues.

LEAD students creating their prints in Wheelhouse Studios.

LEAD students creating their prints in Wheelhouse Studios.

LEAD focused on printmaking as a way of securing social change, in partnership with the Go Big Read program

LEAD focused on printmaking as a way of securing social change.

Students part of the LEAD Course: Principles in Leadership, Ethics, Authenticity, and Development (an introductory program for freshman students directly admitted to the Business School) throughout the  semester have “engaged in social entrepreneurship projects aimed at helping solve societal problems” (Angela Richardson, Program Coordinator). One of the main focuses of the course was the integration of Go Big Read texts Just Mercy and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Art created by LEAD students in partnership with the Go Big Read Program.

Art created by LEAD students.

Reading these texts as part of their curriculum, students were asked throughout the semester “to make an effort to identify the major themes and important takeaways” of the books, as they related to social justice and inequalities (bus.wisc.edu). Noting striking statistics, imagery, and more, “the information [students] gathered and the ideas they generated were then used as inspiration” for the artistic project.

Earlier this week, in Memorial Union’s Wheelhouse Studios, all this prep and brainstorming came to fruition. Drawing on inspiration from historical and current social justice movement posters and evoking their own knowledge from the texts, all 120 students implemented their creativity, collaboratively hand-making 20 beautiful posters.

The project not only allows “students to practice a set of skills that are useful in both business and in life – collaboration, analysis, communication, leadership, creative thinking, and empathy, among others [–]” but, it also gives first year students the opportunity to grapple with challenging social issues like mass incarceration and housing instability in American today.

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Art created by LEAD students in partnership with the Go Big Read Program.

Furthermore, “by working together in small groups to design and create their own posters, they add their voices to the on-going dialogue around these issues”, contributing to a more aware and concerned campus community (bus.wisc.edu).

We are eager to see what the next set of LEAD students creates in partnership with the Go Big Read program!

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

So You’ve Read the Book – What Now?

Whew, it’s been a busy semester. Over ten thousand students and faculty on campus have read and discussed “Evicted” in their classes and at book discussions, Matthew Desmond’s Author Talk has come and gone, and the Go Big Read program is already thinking about selecting a book for next year (if you have a suggestion, submit it here).

Despite all this (or perhaps because of all this), the end of the semester should not mean the end of the discussion or, more importantly, the action. A number of programs both national and local exist that are helping people who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing eviction as well as groups that work to advocate for affordable housing across the country.

For example, here in Madison, the Tenant Resource Center provides counseling and mediation for people being evicted along with other resources. They are willing to train volunteers to work as housing counselors, helping people with questions on rental rights and responsibilities. Mediators and assistance with office administration are also welcome.

Porchlight is another Madison-based program that provides housing and support services to people experiencing homelessness. They have a number of volunteer opportunities requiring varying levels of commitment, from occasionally helping with the maintenance and upkeep of Porchlight housing properties to working with guests who are applying for jobs and housing.

The Dane County Salvation Army, which runs a shelter and food pantries along with providing support services, is always looking for volunteers to help serve a meal, mentor a child, or stock the food pantry. Organizations can also host food or school supply drives while individuals with graphic design skills are needed to assist in creating marketing and outreach materials.

These are just a few of the many organizations working in Dane County (not to mention the rest of the country) that are in need of funds and support in order to continue working to improve the living conditions for families and individuals. For a more complete list and links to websites, check out the “Get Involved” page of the “Evicted” Research Guide.

 

Morgan Sederburg

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Program

Reliving Matthew Desmond’s Visit

Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, visited this past Tuesday, November 1st, giving eager students, faculty, and community members an informative and engaging presentation.

The much anticipated keynote event for UW’s 2016 Go Big Read program had motivated people to claim their spot in line as much as two hours before doors opened.Ready with tickets in hand, guests quickly congregated in the entrance, main hall, and lobby of Memorial Union, waiting for the doors of Shannon Hall to open. Others also awaited at several livestream locations across campus and the Madison area, eager to hear the UW alum speak, and, still more, enthusiastically awaited the start of the livestream feed from the comfort of their own home, with laptops in hand.

The line to enter Shannon Hall looped around the corner in the hall of Memorial Union. Enthusiastic UW senior, Maddie Colbert, gives the camera a thumbs up.

Enthusiastic UW senior, Maddie Colbert, gives the camera a thumbs up as she waits to enter the theatre.

The crowd was excited when UW Chancellor Becky Blank took the stage to introduce Desmond. She noted on the broad reach of the program, with over 225 participating classes, and the overwhelming response the text has received. As she shared, “Matt shows the devastating consequences of eviction” and she warmly welcomed him onto the stage. Desmond himself took to the podium, with clicker and slides ready, to share his experiences and research with the crowd.

Becky Blank introduces Desmond at the Go Big Read 2016 Keynote.

Becky Blank introduces Desmond at the Go Big Read 2016 Keynote.

Desmond framed his lecture with the story of one of the eight families he worked with while in Milwaukee, the story of single-mother Arleene and her two sons, Jori and Jafaris. Coupled with compelling images and revealing statistics, he explained that Arleene is not alone with her housing struggles. Like many other low income families, she spends at least 80% of her income on rent, leaving her and her children with little to none for other living necessities like food and clothes.

One of Arleene's homes in Milwaukee.

One of Arleene’s homes in Milwaukee.

Desmond emphasized how eviction affects the young and the old, the sick and the able-bodied alike. Recounting how Jafaris got mad and violent with a teacher at school, prompting a police visit to their home that nearly ensured her an eviction, Desmond highlighted the wide grasp eviction has on all parts of life.

While on stage, the author also touched on the long term consequences of eviction. Given that all evictions are recorded and publicly visible on the Wisconsin Court public records database, finding a home thereafter is nearly impossible. Arleene herself called nearly ninety apartments before one finally accepted her application. The link between mental health and housing stability was discussed, too. Desmond alerted the crowd to the increased rate of depression among mothers following an eviction, and the rising rate of suicides.

The author stressed throughout his presentation that one’s home is the center of life, a refuge from work, school, and the menace of the streets. It’s where we play and retreat; it’s where we settle down. The word for home in different languages evokes warmth, family, and community. Eviction, he asserted, can cause the loss of all of this.

The issues discussed were heavy and disheartening – what can be done to change the crisis? Desmond closed his talk with a call to action, with hope for the future of the housing landscape. What if all families had housing? Kids could be fed, kept off the street and in their schools; parents could better maintain a stable job and healthy environment for their children.

He directed the audience to his organization Just Shelter, where all may stay informed and get involved with organizations working to fight this problem. He encouraged students to get involved with organizations on-campus, such as Habitat for Humanity, or those off campus, such as Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Project and Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison. His hope that as years pass, we come to hate poverty, eviction, and homelessness more and more and for all of us – students, faculty, and community members alike – to participate, continue discussion, and actively work to correct this issue that directly affects the very communities we live in.

 

Ana Wong

Intern, UW-Madison Libraries & Go Big Read Program

(Cover photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)