The Cap Times: Eviction Filings in Dane County Skyrocket Amid Housing Crunch

Written by Nicholas Garton. Original Article Found Here.

Landlords in Dane County filed for over 2,400 evictions in 2023, a nearly 50% increase from the prior year, according to a report from tenant advocacy groups and the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Eviction levels in Wisconsin overall have exceeded what they were pre-pandemic, the report shows.

“The number of eviction filings in Wisconsin in 2023 exceeded the number of filings in 2019,” said Korey Lundin, an attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin, a nonprofit that represents people facing evictions.

In addition to the UW Law School and Legal Action, the report was compiled by the Tenant Resource Center in Madison and Community Justice Inc.

The evictions have ramped up at the same time city of Madison staff say the local demand for housing has reached crisis levels. The city notes that 70,000 people are projected to move to Madison over the next 20 years, requiring the construction of about 40,000 new housing units to keep pace.

Post-pandemic inflation and rent increases have made it harder for people to keep up with payments and — when they’ve been evicted — to find anywhere else affordable to live, according to the report’s authors.

“Rents in Madison are rising faster than almost anywhere in the country,” Lundin said. “As Madison’s population increases and rents continue to increase, there is a huge mismatch between the supply and demand for affordable housing.”

About half the people facing eviction last year had no income, and the average income among the other half was about $26,000. The county’s median household income is $84,297.

Federal guidelines define the lowest tier for “affordability” as being 30% of area median income, and in many cases the evicted tenants made too little to qualify for that classification of subsidized zoning.

Rental property owners in Dane County filed a total of 2,437 eviction requests in court last year, targeting 2,103 separate households. Most of those tenants — in 1,820 homes — were the subject of one eviction filing, but nearly 300 low-income households received repeated eviction notices from their landlords throughout the year.

Eviction notices are usually not intended to force people out of their homes, as long as they can catch up on rent, tenant advocates said.

“Most eviction actions are filed as a tool to collect rent, and do not end with the sheriff removing the renter,” Lundin said.

But many people who are kicked out ultimately end up filling homeless shelters, doubling up with other families, or living on the street while they try to find someplace to stay. Madison’s shelter managers told the Cap Times they’ve been overwhelmed so far this year by what appears to be a surge in local homelessness.

“What people do who get displaced via eviction varies widely depending on their situation,” said Hannah Renfro, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center. “Although it can be difficult, some tenants do find new housing, especially if they have support to do so from organizations, families or friends. Many displaced families experience homelessness due to eviction.”

Landlords who offer affordable housing are also among the top evictors in Dane County.

Resources for people facing eviction or who are struggling to keep up on rent are available in Dane County.

The Tenant Resource Center provides assistance for people facing housing insecurity. Last year, the center mediated 378 disputes between landlords and tenants.

The organization provides education for both landlords and tenants about their rights, which the center says helps “foster better communication and positive relationships between tenants and landlords.”

The agency contacts every tenant household with an eviction filing to ensure they know when they are expected to attend a court hearing and have the tools they need. Lundin points out that, unlike in criminal court, people facing evictions aren’t granted the automatic right to be represented by an attorney.

“Attorneys are able to help reach a settlement, negotiate payment terms or move-out dates,” Renfro said. “And help to have their client’s name redacted from the eviction court record.”

According to the report, the county’s evictions showed wide race and gender disparities. Over half of tenants who faced eviction in Dane County were Black; 58% were female.

“Those with the lowest incomes have the highest rent burden and those burdens are even higher for Black households,” Lundin said. “A recent report from the city of Madison found that most of Madison is unaffordable to the average Black household.”