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Author: Karlyn Schumacher

Milwaukee has Nation’s Largest Monthly Rent Increase in June 2016

According to a recent study done by ABODO, Milwaukee had the nation’s largest increase in monthly rent in June of 2016. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Milwaukee increased from $880/month to $1,010/month in June of 2016, which is a 15% increase in rent.

This does not mean, however, that Milwaukee’s monthly rent rates are the highest in the nation, but just that the city had the largest monthly rent increase in June. The study looked at cities across the country and their average monthly rent prices. Columbus, Ohio was close behind Milwaukee with a 13% increase in rent for one-bedroom apartments, and Charlotte, North Carolina had the biggest drop in monthly rent with a 14% decrease.

The study also found that demand for apartments in Milwaukee has increased. Milwaukee’s vacancy rates “dropped from 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 to 4.1 percent in the first quarter of this year,” according to an article about the study from Milwaukee’s BizTimes.

The article, entitled “Milwaukee has largest rent increase in nation, study shows,” interviewed Sam Radbil, the senior communications manager at ABODO, about reasons for Milwaukee’s recent rent increase. “What we’re seeing is Milwaukee is becoming a mini-Chicago…People are moving to Milwaukee from Chicago and it is no longer a downgrade like people had historically thought.”

Rabdil also said, “I grew up in Milwaukee and lived through the Marquette Interchange construction, but never once did I see a change in the skyline like I’m seeing now…People are starting to see what Milwaukee has to offer. Unique restaurants and bars, a rich cultural scene and actual development. That is why the rents are going up.”

The increasing cost of rent in Milwaukee, coupled with the general shortage of affordable housing, certainly feeds into the issues Matthew Desmond discusses in Evicted.

 

To read the study done by ABODO, click here.

You can read the BizTimes article entitled “Milwaukee has largest rent increase in nation, study shows” here.

 

Homeownership Tax Benefits and the Affordable Housing Crisis

The website Talkpoverty.org recently published an article that discusses the gap between what the federal government spends on rental assistance programs and homeownership tax benefits. The article states that federal rental assistance programs in 2015 cost the government $51 billion, while “two of the largest homeownership tax programs—the Mortgage Interest Deduction and the Property Tax Deduction—cost $90 billion in 2015.”

The article goes on to state that “households making over $100,000 a year received nearly 90 percent of the $90 billion spent on the two tax programs discussed above. Households making less than $50,000 got a little more than 1 percent of those benefits.”

Low-income households receive even less of a benefit from these tax programs (the article puts the average monthly figure that low-income households receive from these programs at eight cents). This stands in stark contrast to households making over $9 million annually (0.1 percent of Americans) receiving an average of $1,236 per month from the two homeownership tax programs mentioned above.

The article ends with a discussion of how we can make this system more fair for low-income households, including redirecting some of the spending on wealthy homeowners to benefit first-time homeowners, helping low-income households save for a down payment, and other policies that could help put an end to the affordable housing crisis.

To read “The Biggest Beneficiaries of Housing Subsidies? The Wealthy.,” click here.

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.

Research Reveals Trends in San Francisco’s Rental Prices

Michael Anderson recently wrote an article for Medium entitled “A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices” in San Francisco. As its title implies, the article discusses trends in San Francisco’s housing and rental prices from the last fifty years by using the research of Eric Fischer.

Fischer discusses his methodology and more about his research here. He essentially sifted through old microfilm and photos of the San Francisco Chronicle in order to gather information about rent and housing costs in San Francisco prior to rent control introduced by the mayor in 1979.

Fischer found that rent has been going up by 6.6% every year (on average) in San Francisco since 1956. He was able to create several charts that visualize this and other factors in San Francisco’s housing costs. Fischer used a formula to create this chart by using three variables, which Anderson describes as: “1. The number of jobs located in San Francisco County. 2. The number of places in San Francisco County for people to live. 3. The total amount of money that is paid to everyone who works jobs in San Francisco County.”

Anderson discusses the implications of Fischer’s research and what it means for the future of San Francisco’s rental and housing markets as well as how other cities in the U.S. might avoid the situation San Francisco is in. Many of the ideas that Anderson proposes are similar to those found in Matthew Desmond’s Evicted.

Read the full article here.

Shipping Inmates Out of State

A recent article from The Marshall Project discusses the hardships that families go through as states are shipping parts of their inmate populations to other states in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding in their correctional facilities. The four states that currently engage in this practice are Hawaii, California, Vermont, and Arizona, and the U.S. Virgin Islands send their prisoners to U.S. states as well.

The portions of the inmate populations from these states that get shipped away end up in areas in Michigan, Arizona, the Mississippi Delta, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. According to the article, “often, the best-behaving prisoners — those with no disciplinary record, escape history or medical issues — are the most likely to be sent far from home,” usually ending up in “facilities run by for-profit companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group.”

This is an issue for families of the inmates who want to visit their loved ones, only to have to pay travel fees to the out-of-state facilities that are anywhere from $1000 and up (usually for those who are from Hawaii, at least).

The sign outside of a Corrections Corporation of America location. Inmates who are shipped out of state are often housed at CCA private prisons.

The sign outside of a Corrections Corporation of America location. Inmates who are shipped out of state are often housed at CCA private prisons.

This practice also has important ramifications for the facilities in the towns and cities to which these inmates are sent. The article states:

When the people of Lake County, Mich., the poorest county in that state, learned that their local prison might reopen to accept inmates from Vermont, many were thrilled. The state representative there and the executive director of Michigan Works, a jobs program, both sent letters to Vermont officials pleading for the contract to be signed.

Now that the facility has opened for business, Lake County Commissioner Dan Sloan said unemployment has plummeted from double digits to about 7 percent in less than a year. “We’re seeing more use of our facilities, gas stations, retail, everything,” he said.

In Sayre, Okla., where California sent hundreds of inmates until last year, City Manager Guy Hylton said that having prisoners from out of state “was a miracle for a town like ours, there’s no other way to put it. Commissary purchases were one of our largest sources of sales tax, and the utilities that the prison paid for were like…having a whole other city here in our city.”

While this practice has rejuvenated the economies of several of the towns and cities where these inmates are now being shipped, this has not been the case across the board. The article discusses a specific example at a prison in Mississippi, stating that “for those living in the Delta’s poverty, the prison has been a false promise. ‘That prison should be to the Delta region what Toyota is to North Mississippi: a big economic deal,’ said Johnny B. Thomas, the mayor of Glendora, a nearby town. ‘But the corporation is taking all the proceeds while our children’s schools are falling down.'”

There are currently over 7,200 inmates that are sent to correctional facilities outside of their states, but a few other states are also considering adopting this practice (Washington state and North Dakota, to name two), so this number could easily rise in the coming months. States engage in this practice because it essentially “solves” two problems at the same time: shipping inmates out of state helps alleviate overcrowded prisons in-state and it is also less expensive.

The article goes on to break down the differences in cost between sending an inmate out of state versus housing them in a facility in state:

Hawaii pays CCA about $70 a day to house each inmate at Saguaro, compared with an average of $140 a day for an inmate at any of the four prisons back home. In Vermont, an out-of-state prison bed costs about $62 per day; in-state, the price tag is $162. For the U.S. Virgin islands, the choice is between as little as $67 on the mainland, versus $150 on the islands. (California’s complicated budget picture makes it more difficult to make a similar comparison.)

Even though states are saving money by engaging in this practice, it is the families of inmates who are shipped out of state that are paying the consequences.

To read the full article, entitled “The Prison Visit That Cost My Family $2370,” click here.

The featured photo for this article is of the town of Eloy, Arizona, where Saguaro Correctional Center is located. Saguaro is where many of Hawaii’s inmates who are shipped out of state are housed. Photo taken by Raquel Baranow in 2009.

Criminal Justice Activist Shaka Senghor on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday

Oprah recently interviewed criminal justice activist Shaka Senghor as part of her SuperSoul Sunday series. Shaka spent nineteen years in prison for second-degree murder at the age of nineteen, and seven of those years were spent in solitary confinement.

There are many parallels between Shaka’s experiences with the criminal justice system and the anecdotes in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Shaka, like many of the individuals Mr. Stevenson has represented, experienced physical and sexual abuse growing up, and he also turned to the streets and drug dealing as a way of gaining the support and acceptance he lacked at home.

Shaka also discusses the dehumanization that takes place in modern American prisons. This dehumanization almost certainly contributes to the high rates of mental illness in prisons, which Shaka describes as common and especially apparent when inmates were subjected to solitary confinement.

Shaka now visits classes and kids in his community to talk about his experiences, teaches classes at the University of Michigan, and has a fellowship at MIT’s Media Lab. One of his greatest challenges in his activism is figuring out ways to “empower young men and women in communities where powerlessness is the norm.” Shaka’s ultimate goal is to “raise awareness” that young people in communities and in prison are worthy, valuable, and redeemable. He says that “all [he] ever wanted was a fair chance to just be a human,” and his actions help spread that message in communities where youth are at higher risk of incarceration.

To watch the full episode, click here.

Life After Thirty Years in Prison

A recent article from The Crime Report details one man’s experiences re-entering society after thirty years behind bars. The article is the second in a series from The Crime Report that follows Lorenzo Brooks and his experiences adjusting to life outside of prison after being incarcerated for thirty years.

Lorenzo Brooks, now 60, was convicted of second-degree murder thirty years ago. Even before his release was granted, he says, “I made preparations and I set goals,” he says. “I just educated myself on the resources available.” Re-entry to society is something that many former inmates struggle with upon their release from prison, especially after decades spent behind bars.

“Some people don’t prepare themselves while they’re in (prison),” Lorenzo says. “They think someone else is going to do it for them.”

Immediately after his release on September 22, 2015, Lorenzo went to Bellevue Men’s Shelter in Manhattan and then another shelter in Brooklyn. According to the article, the next day “he began to rebuild his life. He went to the Human Services Administration, where he filled out applications for food stamps, Medicaid and immediate cash assistance. Next, he filled out an application to live at the Fortune Society in Harlem, an organization that provides housing and support to formerly incarcerated men and women, and was admitted about three weeks later.”

A photo of Lorenzo Brooks in his neighborhood. Photo by Alice Popovici from The Crime Report.

A photo of Lorenzo Brooks in his neighborhood. Photo by Alice Popovici from The Crime Report.

Lorenzo now has a job as a program aide in charge of security at the Fort Washington Men’s Shelter in New York City. His first day at the job, he tried swiping his ID card three times before being able to successfully clock in for his shift. He says of his experiences on his first day at his first job outside of prison in thirty years that, “I wasn’t used to swiping a card….It was very foreign to me, very foreign.”

Lorenzo hopes to one day have “a position as counselor for clients [at a homeless shelter like the one he works at] with substance abuse problems—a job that would require about four months of specialized training.”

“Right now, my position is one of being at the bottom of the ladder,” he says, “You’ve always got to crawl before you walk.”

Lorenzo uses his own experiences to empathize with many of the men at the shelter, some of whom were just recently released from prison themselves. “Being in their position, you can feel hopeless and helpless,” he said, “so I try to let them know that they’re not helpless and that there is hope.”

To read the article “Life After Prison: ‘You’ve Got to Crawl Before You Walk'” by Alice Popovici at The Crime Report, click here.