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University of Wisconsin Madison Go Big Read

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)