Madison, WI. Madison city officials and housing advocates are outraged by new GOP legislation stripping municipalities of decades worth of housing protections. On May 26th, Senate bill 107 was introduced with the passionate backing of the Apartment Association of South Central Wisconsin, as well as the construction and building industry, and is on the fast track to be approved by the republican majority in the legislature.
From the Capital Times:
The bill would prohibit local governments from enacting ordinances that limit a residential landlord’s ability to obtain and use personal information from tenants and prospective tenants, including income and source of income, occupation, court records, rental history, and credit information, according to an analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau.
City regulations that would be voided if the bill becomes law include:
— A city ordinance that prevents landlords from showing an apartment for future rental until at least a quarter of the lease is up. A city alder’s proposal to expand that time even further would also be dead in the water.
— A city ordinance that prohibits landlords from requiring Social Security numbers in applications; this is one way that landlords can run credit checks but also screen out undocumented immigrants.
— A city ordinance that forbids landlords from denying an application based solely on minimum income requirements or a minimum income-to-rent ratio; landlords typically like to rent to people whose incomes are around three times more than rent.
— An ordinance that prevents landlords from denying housing based on an applicant’s record for convictions older than two years.
— A law that prevents landlords from discriminating against potential tenants or refusing to rent to them because they are on public assistance.
— A city ordinance that requires landlords to give tenants at least a 24-hour notice before showing an apartment.
Supporters say the bill ends decades of regulations that have gone too far. Senate Republican Frank Lasee of De Pere says property owners are responsible for the criminal activities of their tenants so it only makes sense to let them consider tenants’ previous records. Under current law they can – for the previous two years.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin says the bill simply rolls back decades of thought into Madison’s fair housing ordinances. Soglin said the state is trying to take over things that should be handled locally and further lambasted the GOP for proclaiming that they are the party of small government and local control.
Sounds somewhat less than apocalyptic on the surface, but the reality of the matter is quite dire. Under this scenario it is more than likely that owners and operators of newer buildings in more desirable neighborhoods will be able to exclude tenants who receive public assistance, have previous criminal convictions, and also the working poor. Meanwhile, owners of aging housing stock will have no choice but to rent to those excluded tenants in high concentrations creating new poverty pockets in the city. Couple this with the GOP’s rabid assault on social safety nets that include reductions to the popular badgercare health insurance program for low to moderate income families, medicare, reductions in foodstamps, massive cuts to school budgets, county crisis programs, further reductions in shared revenue and drastic cuts to the federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program, and you have a recipe for disaster. The potential crisis is exacerbated further by Governor Walker’s rollback of the Wisconsin Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and foregoing the inflationary adjustment on the Homestead Tax Credit. Both of these amount to a tax increase on low income families.
So while the Wisconsin GOP offers hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate givebacks, they are essentially adopting policy that may contribute to the creation of ghettos the likes of which Wisconsin has never before seen, while further burdening a population that already has little in the way of resources. Next up will surely be massive increases in law enforcement and prison spending as an already desperate populace resorts to crime in order to feed and house their families. Never mind that two years of technical school tuition is far less expensive than prison. But providing that tuition would be considered “socialism”.
What the GOP doesn’t understand is that poverty is not a choice for some people, yet they do nothing to address the underlying issues that contribute to it. It’s really easy to make statements like “Well, why don’t you get a job?” or “Hey, you should go to school”. The truly poor are in crisis every day and it is all consuming. When your immediate problem involves buying groceries for your children and finding money to pay rent, school might as well exist in Antarctica.
Again, this plan to roll back decades worth of rental housing protections is nothing more than a financial thank you gift from the GOP to the Shelter Industry. In the early 2000’s I was a member of the City of Madison Housing Committee, Chairman of the CDBG Commission, and Chairman of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, where we worked on housing-related legislation. I’m appalled that in one fell swoop the Wisconsin Republican Party has unraveled years of work with the purpose of discriminating against those using public assistance while maximizing profits for landlords.
Perhaps my commentary about GOP-created ghettos is a bit alarmist, but the possibility certainly will exist for that to happen. You won’t find low income people who use section 8 vouchers in downtown neighborhoods; you’ll find them concentrating in aging housing stock that might otherwise go unrented. Neighborhoods like Allied, the Former Broadway-Simpson, Darbo-Worthington, and Thompson drive by East Town Mall will all experience a high concentration of tenants who are at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.
In 1996 I moved to Madison from my home state of NJ. I was born in the decaying former industrial city of Trenton, and raised just outside the city limits in a town that was 96% white. Trenton’s population at the time was nearly 70% minority. Housing regulations were poor, with not many protections for renters. Buildings were allowed to fall into decay while landlords were able to continue renting them to folks who had no other options. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed through lack of attention/oversight by city government and even until this day the city of Trenton continues to struggle with massive poverty, low property values, high crime and high unemployment.
Madison seems like another world entirely. When first moving to this city, particular neighborhoods were described to me as “bad”. When I drove through them I was shocked…at the well kept lawns, landscaping, and buildings in good condition. Why the contrast? Because ordinances are in place to hold owners accountable, to prevent them from becoming slumlords, and the city encourages scattered site subsidized housing.
This is what happens when the Republican Party is so hell bent on rewarding political contributors that they don’t (or won’t) see the potential for neighborhood destruction in their own cities. Rather than attempt to emulate the successes of Madison in their own districts-Madison leads the state in low unemployment numbers, quality of life, culture, and a host of other things- they’d rather destroy it out of spite.
If only the GOP would understand that low income folks are human beings too.