Aug 30

Matt Desmond’s op-ed piece in today’s NYT is a prime example of the over-emphasizing of relative differences in eviction filings:

In the last week of July, eviction filings were 109 percent above average levels in Milwaukee.” 

If one narrows the range enough, picking and choosing that which fits their predefined scenario, one can use otherwise factual data to say anything. 

A more accurate reflection of what is happening in the Milwaukee rental market is eviction filings are down by 26.6% YTD through 07/31/2020, despite an anecdotal 8-12% greater than normal non-payment. Rent has always been the financial elasticity in the “C” market, be it Christmas gifts, car repairs, or job loss.

If too many owners fail because they cannot collect enough rent to cover expenses, housing opportunities will only become more restricted and expensive. Municipalities will also fail as they “eat” three to four times more rent dollars in property taxes and municipal utilities than typical owners receive for their efforts and return on investment. 

Many scholars are warning of such widespread failures in the rental market. One example: Tenant Rights, Eviction, and Rent Affordability (July 4, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

In national interviews dating back to 1991, I’ve pointed out the near impossibility of paying rent for those with limited income. While the older articles are not online, here is a NYT interview from a decade ago:

On $673 a month, how do you buy tennis shoes for the kids, clean shirts for school and still pay your rent?” Mr. Ballering said.” ($673 was the W2, welfare, cash benefit at the time)

Sadly nothing has changed in these 30 years. 

I fully agree with Desmond’s statement buried near the end of the op-ed, “Eviction is not a solution to landlords’ fundamental problem of maintaining rental income. Rent relief is.”  I would have been pleased to see this as your closing call to action.

The COVID crisis presents an opportunity for housing advocates, whether from the tenant or property owner perspective, to jointly push for a long term solution, which Matt Desmondinitially advocated for; portable housing vouchers.

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