EvictionFreeMKE.org offers free legal help to those on verge of losing their rented homes

A screenshot of the automated EvictionFreeMKE.org tool.

A screenshot of the automated EvictionFreeMKE.org tool.

A new tool, EvictionFreeMKE.orgis offering Milwaukee residents the opportunity to connect with free legal help, rental assistance and other resources to reduce evictions.

The new tool comes months after Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley signed a historic bill that established a Right to Counsel program in Milwaukee County.

RELATED: Milwaukee County has established a Right to Counsel program. Here’s why advocates say it could reduce evictions

That program provides residents facing eviction the right to a free lawyer. This new tool helps connect people with those lawyers.

Partners involved in creation of the tool include United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Legal Action of Wisconsinthe City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

The tool is part of the United Way’s Safe and Stable Homes initiative, said Krystina Kohler, a financial stability portfolio manager at United Way. The initiative is meant to end family homelessness in the four counties — Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Waukesha and Washington — served by the organization.

A lack of legal representation has been a regular feature of Milwaukee’s eviction courts, Matthew Desmond highlighted in his 2016 book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” His research found that only 3% of tenants appearing in eviction court had legal representation.

RELATED: The ‘Evicted’ exhibit brings awareness to Milwaukee, where the author hopes to continue the conversation

Kohler said he is hoping the three-year pilot will help reduce the 13,000 annual eviction filings that occur in Milwaukee.

“We found that when we provided free lawyers to tenants, their eviction cases were dismissed or delayed in about 90% of cases in Milwaukee,” Kohler said.

Kohler also noted that sometimes landlords won’t even attempt mediation and instead, go straight to filing evictions to collect rent. “By having this in place where a landlord would know (their tenant has) an attorney, there’s less a chance of those frivolous evictions,” she said.

The tool pools resources from Legal Action’s Eviction Defense Project volunteers as well as Legal Aid Society personnel who will review applications. Kohler said the housing attorneys taking cases through this new tool will be full-time, paid employees.

In addition to legal personnel, Kohler said an independent evaluator would collect data from Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP), Impact 2-1-1 and lawyers to determine how time and cost-effective the program will be.

“He will put out public reports every year, so everyone who is invested in the project can see how effective it is,” she said.

The tool comes after a year of advocacy and planning from the United Way and its partners.

United Way has pledged $1.5 million over the next three years to support the program.

Kohler said in his eight years of working with United Way, “The homelessness and housing sector has blown my mind. They have been this really tightknit committed group of professionals who have all been in Milwaukee a long time doing this work.”

The tool’s unveiling makes accessing the promise of a right-to-counsel easier, which Kohler said comes just in time with the end of the eviction moratorium.

“With the whole COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like people’s perceptions and stigma have changed: people understand how precarious our housing situations are,” she said.

“It’s just in time and it’s so critical now.”

Here’s what to expect when using the tool

The website is available in English, Spanish and Hmong while the automated tool, “Evi,” is available in English and Spanish.

It takes less than a minute on average to complete the application.

If you have served an eviction notice with a court date, the app will connect you to a free housing attorney. Kohler said it would take roughly 48 hours for a lawyer to contact you.

If you think you might be evicted and are requesting rent support, you will be redirected to the rental housing resource center which can provide information on how to access mediation and rental assistance.

Contact Talis Shelbourne at (414) 403-6651 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @talisseer and message her on Facebook at @talisseer.

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Need more help with housing questions? The Milwaukee Resource Guide is here to help. Have something you want answered? Submit a question.

This article originally appeared on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: free legal help to those facing eviction” class=”link “>EvictionFreeMKE.org offers free legal help to those facing eviction

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