Eviction and Its Repercussions
Eviction is a social phenomenon that cannot be generalized. It is more than a mere loss of a home; eviction results in a loss of power, and a loss of agency. This project examines the social, political and policy reasons behind foreclosures, evictions, and loss of dwellings in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee and explores micro-level data that explains the human impact of evictions.
The Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures field school researchers documented and studied six foreclosed and boarded up homes in Sherman Park. These homes were located in a four-block area between Center Street and Meinecke Avenue, and N. 38th and N. 40th streets. This analysis draws from this research and focuses on three case-studies from this database.
In the second and third decades of the twentieth century, there is a clear spike in building permits in the three homes (see Figs. 1 and 2). This peak is influenced by an influx of working- and middle-class residents of ethnic German origin in the Sherman Park area. By 1920s, Sherman Park becomes a dense residential neighborhood on the north-west edge of Milwaukee. The neighborhood homes are defined by duplex style buildings. The architecture of duplex buildings allowed families to maintain a private and public domain, and offered space that allowed the upwardly-mobile families to provide an extra source of capital by renting out spare rooms. Duplexes are designed for this very purpose; floor plans demonstrate this by having two front entrances into independent living units for two separate families. An important detail to note is that the back entrance to the home is shared by the two units. This seemingly minute facet of the floor plan, merges the back-zone of the two distinct units and intertwines the separate units into one.
In the 1930s during the Great Depression, the asset of having a separate unit or spare rooms to rent acted as an additional source of income. Boarders stayed in these duplexes and it is reflected in subtle changes to the rooms and overall layouts of the home. Some houses had rooms that locked from the inside and established clear boundaries that separated the boarder from the family, and the rest of the home. These architectural characteristics continue to influence the experience of a duplex home in Sherman Park today.
By the middle of the twentieth century, white flight and redlining emerged as a factor that influenced Sherman Park. In the 1930s, "residential security maps" allowed the federal government to rate neighborhoods in four different ways: best, still desirable, definitely declining, and hazardous. These descriptions were based off of who lived in the neighborhood. A “best” neighborhood made of mostly white families could start “declining” if Jewish people or African Americans moved into their community. Redlining allowed real estate agents and banks to use a neighborhood’s rating as a vehicle for funding decision. Neighborhoods that were rated hazardous were deemed unfit for investment by banks. White families in neighborhoods that were starting to decline were convinced by real estate agents to sell their homes as soon as possible. Afterwards, those same agents would end up selling the house to African American families for a higher price. Redlining functioned as a source of profit, but also promoted racial segregation in housing. These tactics allowed embedded racism to perpetuate, and created stark divisions between neighborhoods.
Today, inner city African American neighborhoods are almost three times as likely to receive a citation as homes in white neighborhoods. This can be seen as a repercussion of redlining and subsequent unjust urban policies. These practices reinforced the stereotype that poorer, urban, black neighborhoods are hazardous, and crime ridden. These ideas still cripple communities like Sherman Park.
In the residential security maps, the Sherman Park neighborhood was split up by a rating of “still desirable” and “definitely declining.” Although these ratings are not as severe as hazardous, they still had implications on the neighborhood. As white families moved out, African American families moved in and began working in automotive and mechanical industrial jobs.
Jobs and Industry
Since the 1840s, when population boomed and technology improved, industry began to grow and factory jobs were a main form of employment for those who lived in this area. By the early years of the twentieth century, thriving local industries were centered around the 30th street corridor. These factories continued to provide stable employment until there was a recession in the early 1980s. According to a University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee study, in 1970 four in ten African American adults in Milwaukee worked in manufacturing jobs, which was the highest rate in the nation. Companies like Allis-Chalmers, Louis Allis, and Kearney & Trecker disappeared and left a significant economic impact behind. Working-class African American families that depended on local jobs could no longer rely on them. The recession’s impact is reflected in the microhistories of the three homes in Sherman Park. Citations rose after the recession, which indicate property owners could not keep up with maintenance. This can be seen as a major turning point in home-loss and consequently residential stability in the Sherman Park community.
Home-loss can also be explained by a spike in mass incarceration. Ever since President Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” African American communities have been subjected to harsh law enforcement and policy. To put it in perspective, it is estimated that over half of young African American men from Milwaukee County have prison records, and nationally one in three black men have been behind bars. Mass incarceration is considered by many to be the new Jim Crow, black men are being imprisoned at an alarming rate. A Department of Justice study revealed that African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested, and almost four times as likely to experience force from the police. Wisconsin, Milwaukee County, and Sherman Park all suffer from similar statistics. Wisconsin incarcerates more black men than any other state. This absence of men in communities like Sherman Park can help explain the upward trend in citations. If men are not contributing to the workforce, local economy, and household incomes, then, families find it difficult to maintain their properties and sustain a standard of living. Money may have to go towards bail or lawyers, not towards the citations that continue to pile up.
Building permits reach another small peak in the 2000s, coincident with an economic recession. Between 2007 and 2019, a eight trillion dollar housing bubble burst and employment started to bottom out. These two economic factors combined with the expansion of mortgage credit allowed home-loss to skyrocket. Reckless mortgage lending led to a decrease in home values and an increase in foreclosures. Once the homes had been bought by banks or corporations, the rate of building permits increased.
The foreclosures were so widespread in Milwaukee it is estimated that between 2008 and 2010 nearly 16,000 homeowners were late on mortgage payments, and their lenders were seeking action. Most of these foreclosures were occurring on the north side of Milwaukee. This trend is reflected in the three case studies we studied. Each home was seized by the city or a bank between the years of 2008 and 2012.
Undergraduate researcher Francesca Bisi explored this phenomenon in the neighboring Washington Park community, by reconstructing the Flippin family’s foreclosure story by examining the objects left behind in the home when the family was evicted. She took the Flippin’s scattered possessions and used them as a mechanism to understand how families are impacted by home-loss. The Flippins suffered from many of the same problems that affected Sherman Park. Georgia, the matriarch of the family died, and her death and her daughter's incarceration ultimately led to the loss of the home. The Flippins had stability, and all it took was a few major events in their family life to completely change the state of their homeownership. Pershonne, one of the Flippin daughters was incarcerated, which led to the decline of maintenance in the home and the family’s stability. Pearline, one of the other Flippin daughters worked several jobs and took out a mortgage. Evidence that the Flippins’ were struggling financially started to emerge through series of unpaid bills and inspections. At one point, the city of Milwaukee told the Flippins that they had to vacate the premises. Home-loss is deeply personal for these reasons, it is not a matter of just not paying the bills or neglecting your property. It can happen to anyone at any point in their life — and it can devastate a family.
Our homes represent us, illustrate our stories and our struggles, and provide us shelter. Yet, in recent years, specifically since the 2010 housing crisis, we have heard of frequent foreclosures, loss of homes, and evictions. Loss of ownership and access to home pose a threat to our social values and neighborhood stability. Everyone has a right to a home, and mass eviction rips this right away. Eviction thrives in low income communities, and targets vulnerable populations. By examining home-loss on a personal level, and giving the crisis a human face we can start to truly understand its impact. Eviction is not just plaguing the Milwaukee area, it is a national problem. By researching its human impact we can bring awareness to this issue, and find effective ways to understand and alleviate mass eviction.
See also, "Creating Home after Incarceration," by Nicole Robinson, Milan Outlaw, Godson Mollel, BLC Field School 2014."
"The Foreclosure Story," by Teonna Cooksey
"A story of a Foreclosure," by Francesca Bisi
Figures 1, 2
The top graph shows building permit applications from three separate homes as evidence of investments in the dwellings. The bottom graph shows enforcement citations issued by the City. Enforcement citations can be read as instances of disinvestment and lack of maintenance. The graphs show temporal trends in these two forms of evidence.
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John Pawasarat and Lois M. Quinn, “Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males, Summary,” ETI Publications, Paper 10 (Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute, 2014).
Staff of the Department of City Development and Department of Neighborhood Services, "Foreclosure in Milwaukee: Progress and Challenges," (Waukesha: Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, 2011), http://www.sewrpc.org/SEWRPCFiles/HousingPlan/Files/foreclosure-in-milw-progress-and-challenges.pdf, (Accessed July 29, 2018).
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