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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Go Big Read’s History

It’s hard to believe that the Go Big Read program is in its eighth year.  We were honored to pay a visit to see an exhibit at Capitol Lakes that showcases the history of the program.

Curator of the exhibit, Ginny Moore Kruse, has been a valuable partner since the beginning!  Each year she (along with others) champions high quality book discussions and creative events for residents in her community.

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We are excited to hear that Capitol Lakes will (and has been) engaging with Matthew Desmond’s Evcited. Checkout a showcase event that is being held in coordination with the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

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Sheila Stoeckel

Go Big Read Program Lead

Chancellor Blank on Creating Community

Last week Chancellor Blank wrote a blog post addressing some of the difficult events that have occurred this summer both around the world and in this very state, pointing out that many of the questions these events have raised are also questions Matthew Desmond explores in “Evicted.” Read her full post below or on the Chancellor’s website here.

Creating community after a difficult summer

Posted on August 18, 2016 by Chancellor Blank

Across the country and around the world, this summer has, sadly, been filled with news of tragedy and violence, starting with killings in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas. I suspect all of us have been horrified at one time or another as we’ve turned on the television.

This past weekend, there was significant unrest in Milwaukee, the largest and most diverse city in our state, as well as home to many of our students. And those who have stayed in Madison over the summer know that we’ve had our own series of controversial incidents and protests.

All of these events are likely to be on people’s minds as they return to campus to prepare for the semester ahead. Appropriately, one of this year’s themes– and the subject of our Go Big Read book, Evicted, is “what is community?”

 

At this moment, it seems particularly important to ask: How is community forged? How do communities like Milwaukee or Madison come together in the wake of violence and tragedy? How does UW-Madison do a better job engaging with our local community and our state? And how do we grapple with the changes we need to implement here on campus?

Many of us on campus have been busy over the summer, following through on our commitments to make the university more welcoming for all. We are moving forward on multiple initiatives, including the launch of a new pilot program for incoming freshmen on community building, called Our Wisconsin.

Within the next few weeks, I and others will share information about these different efforts, including the ways in which we are taking up the suggestions that came in last spring through our community proposal process. We received more than 100 ideas for improving campus climate, inspiring new programs and giving us new ways to think about expanding and modifying current efforts.

Over the summer I’ve also been holding conversations with a variety of community leaders about our community and our campus.  I have invited a number of these individuals to be part of a Community Advisory Cabinet to UW Leadership.

It must be a central part of our education efforts here at UW-Madison to ensure that our students, when they graduate, are comfortable working and living in more diverse communities.  The jobs of the 21st century and the employers who hire our students demand these skills.

Following this difficult summer, I suspect that many of us — faculty, staff, and students — will find it helpful to talk about what we’ve been watching and experiencing as these events have unfolded.  I know that I have felt deep concern and even despair.  I want to share those reactions with colleagues and friends and talk about how we move forward and find hope.

I plan to invite all the units around campus to invite their members into this conversation, if they wish to participate.  I’ll be sending out more information right before the semester about how we can do this across campus.

It is our responsibility as a university community to try and understand the world around us…and to work to create a community here that reflects our values.

Madison Schools Address Needs of Homeless Students

The most recent piece in the Wisconsin State Journal’s series on homelessness examines the relationship between a child’s insecure housing situation and their education. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 1,414 students were identified as homeless throughout the 2014-15 school year in the Madison School District, and even this count is most likely lower than the actual number. Homelessness causes unique stresses for students experiencing it as anxieties about what they will eat and where they will sleep distract from the concentration needed to focus on school. Yet a review of research by the Family Housing Fund reveals that early and constant intervention by schools can minimize and reverse the effects of homelessness.

K’won Watson, a six-year-old at Hawthorne Elementary School, experienced these efforts first-hand while living with his mother and baby brother at the Salvation Army homeless shelter. When he enrolled in kindergarten in October 2015, he received school supplies and free lunches in addition to getting his school fees waived. Further assistance was provided by the district’s Transition Education Program, which was founded in 1989 and works to help homeless students. K’won received intensive reading support and was able to work with Hawthorne’s positive behavior support coach. This network of assistance provided the resources and stability K’won needed in order to concentrate in class.

Unable to find housing after exceeding the maximum amount of time families are allowed to stay at the Salvation Army shelter, K’won’s mother moved their family back to Chicago in the middle of the school year, a sadly common occurrence for students at Hawthorne Elementary. Still, the teachers and support staff there hope they were able to make a positive impact on him.

Says teacher Jani Koester, “If we’re going to break the cycle of homelessness, we have to look at the needs of the children. They have to have hope that their lives can be different.”

You can read the full article by the Wisconsin State Journal here.

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.