WAUWATOSA, Wis.— President Joe Biden has set aside $25 billion for rental assistance, as part of this latest stimulus package Wisconsin gets nearly $377 million of that money, which will be distributed through the state. The city of Milwaukee will get the most, around $17 million.
That money, however, has yet to be disbursed. While people wait, tenants are falling further behind in rent payments, and some property managers haven't seen a rent check in nearly a year.
“Our owners aren’t getting paid and that means we’re not getting paid,” said Joe Hoffman, who owns Porchlight Property Management. “In some cases, tenants are as much as six months behind.”
Hoffman oversees 650 different units and about 100 landlords in Milwaukee, Washington, Waukesha, and Ozaukee counties. He runs the business with his wife and four daughters. He’s also a small-scale landlord and adds most of the property owners he manages are just like him.
“These are small, mom-and-pop businesses,” he said. “We have retired farmers, school teachers, city workers, people who are retired and this is their retirement plan.”
Hoffman says his delinquency rate when it comes to rent payments has jumped to 15%, compared to just 3% before the pandemic. His revenue dropped as much as 30% in some instances last year, from quarter to quarter.
The Wisconsin agencies designated to help those who are falling behind in rent are inundated with cases. Joe has noticed how difficult it has been to keep up.
“Today, I still have some residents who have been waiting since November to get some sort of rent assistance,” he said. “That means they were already behind in November and now here we are in February.”
Landlord and tenant advocates agree federal assistance is the only solid solution. Attorney Tristan Pettit he said has come to the table with many of them and the answer always circles back to that.
“We don’t need to worry about an eviction moratorium if we have money coming in,” he said.
The CDC eviction moratorium has been extended twice since its inception this past September. There is also discussion of extending it into the fall of 2021. Pettit and Hoffman worry if this happens, and rental assistance lags, the problem will be too great to solve.
“There’s no way those residents can climb out of that hole when the moratorium actually ends and it has to come to an end,” Hoffman said.
“I have clients who have said what can I do, I don’t have money to make repairs, I’m thinking of giving my property back to the bank,” Pettit said. “In those situations, things are far enough along that I don’t know how they’re going to manage.”
Eviction filings in Milwaukee County dropped significantly in 2020. Data from Wisconsin Circuit Court records shows last year, the county had 7,918 pending cases. In 2019, that number held at 12,164. In 2018, it was 12,244.
Pettit said this in part due to judges looking at every eviction case more closely due to the pandemic. This includes filings for behavioral issues and other problems not covered under the moratorium.
“Nobody wants to evict anyone right now,” he said. “So, they’re scrutinizing even those evictions more carefully to make sure it’s not being used as a pretext for failure to pay rent.”
The Eviction Lab at Princeton University also reports Milwaukee to be down in evictions over the past year.
Pettit adds distribution within the states of this federal rental assistance should happen by the end of February. This latest allotment also gives landlords the ability to apply on behalf of their tenants.
Read more about what the CDC’s eviction moratorium covers, here.