The eviction spiral

Evicted book cover
Image: Copyright Crown

The rising cost of housing has led to an increase in the number of evictions nationwide, and Wisconsin is no exception. For the two most recent years where numbers are available, there were 28,501 eviction cases filed in 2012 and 28,812 in 2013. Most tenants face these legal proceedings without counsel. But an eviction is not only extremely unsettling for tenants; it has significant short and long-term socio-economic impacts. Access to legal services can help reduce those costs.

In a 2015 article for the UW Institute for Research on Poverty, Matthew Desmond noted that, “Today, the majority of poor renting families spend at least half of their income on housing costs. And almost a quarter — representing over a million families — dedicate over 70 percent of their income to pay rent and keep the lights on…. Eviction has become commonplace in low-income communities.” Desmond goes on to detail how “Residential instability often brings about other forms of instability — in families, schools, communities — compromising the life chances of adults and children.”

Desmond probes the spiral of eviction-induced instability in his new book – Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Among other things, Desmond found that evictions are often a driver, not a side-effect of economic instability. This unexpected conclusion has significant policy implications. In her article for The Atlantic, Gillian B. White concisely summarizes the downward spiral after an eviction: “The psychological, legal, and financial damage inflicted by the process makes it difficult to find new housing, or to keep a job, or provide a stable education for children.” Landlords are reluctant to rent to tenants who have been evicted in the past. Employers often look at the credit history of applicants and screen out those with low scores, including those caused by an eviction judgement. Families then have to settle for the least desirable housing in the least desirable areas, with fewer economic opportunities for themselves and lower performing schools for their children.

Read more

50 years of service at Wisconsin Judicare

“I felt hopeless until they stepped in.” “This service kept me from becoming homeless and bankrupt.” By Beth Richlen, Development Director, Wisconsin Judicare For 50 years, Wisconsin Judicare has provided legal services to individuals like these in northern Wisconsin. From Stevens Point to Superior, from Hudson to Marinette, and everywhere in between, the low-income residents of northern Wisconsin face difficult challenges, including equal access to justice.  Questions about how to obtain the return of a …

Read more

Supreme Court action on access to justice

Petitions_grantedOn April 13, the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted unanimously to adopt a change proposed by the Access to Justice Commission that will result in a new source of funds for civil legal aid to the indigent in Wisconsin. The court acted following a public hearing on Petition 15-06, which was filed by the Access to Justice Commission. The rule change will direct at least 50% of unclaimed funds in state class action settlements and awards to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation to support civil legal services.

On the same day, the court also approved Petition 15-05, which was filed by the State Bar of Wisconsin, to allow lawyers to claim CLE credit for pro bono work. Registered in-house counsel will also have broader authority to do pro bono work. CLE credit for pro bono can be earned at the rate of 1 CLE credit for every 5 hours of pro bono legal services up to a maximum of 6 credits per reporting period. Attorneys will need to perform their pro bono work through a “qualified pro bono program” in order to claim the pro bono CLE credits. The court is expected to issue final orders on the two petitions in the coming months.

Read more