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Tenants in Milwaukee march and rally for an eviction freeze

By Ryan Hamann

MATU member Jacquee Clark speaks outside mayor Tom Barrett's house.

Tenants in Milwaukee march and rally for an eviction freeze

Milwaukee, WI – On the evening of August 1, around 70 people gathered at the Washington Park Senior Center to demand an end to home evictions and to cancel the mortgages and rents. The action was organized by the recently formed Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU), a collection of tenants from around the city looking to fight back against the looming crisis of evictions brought on by loss of jobs and income due to the coronavirus pandemic.

MATU organizer Robert Penner gave a speech which highlighted the central role played by Berrada Properties and its owner, Youssef “Joe” Berrada, in the recent swell of evictions since the initial freeze was lifted in June. Nearly 20% of all evictions in the city since June have been tenants living in units owned by Berrada.

After the speech, protesters followed a modest car caravan through Washington Park and several blocks in the Washington Heights neighborhood. Chants of “Cancel the rents! Cancel the mortgages!” and “Tenant power is worker power!” rang through the streets as people came out onto their porches and the sidewalk to snap pictures and show support. At the front of the march, protesters carried a banner that had pictures of notorious Milwaukee slumlords painted on it, dubbed the “Landlord Wall of Shame.”

The march ended as the protesters came upon the lavish home of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Everyone gathered in the median in the shadow of Barrett’s house to listen to the story of Jacquee Clark, a leader with MATU and someone with intimate knowledge of the predatory practices of Berrada Properties. Clark was unfairly evicted from a unit owned by Berrada in 2019. She spent the better part of the last year trying to get back on her feet and was forced to pay double the security deposit at her current residence because of the eviction on her record.

“The event today is a long time coming. You know, Milwaukee has been known for their notorious eviction practices,” Clark said. “Now with the big pandemic it’s worse, and it’s just really not fair because, particularly, it impacts people of color and low-income and poor people in the city of Milwaukee. I would love to see the moratorium actually be reenacted. 60 days was not enough time.”

Clark continued, “In the city of Milwaukee, where we have the largest population of low-income people of color in Wisconsin, forcing people out of their houses, it’s not fair. Even those who own homes during this pandemic. It should not even be a question, you know? It should not even be a second thought. Stay in your homes until this pandemic is under some type of control.”

MATU has a list of five demands that they are organizing around. These include: 1) An indefinite evictions freeze with no late fees or back-rent; 2) The enforcement of state law against landlords harassing and retaliating against tenants; 3) Make charging double security deposits for people with evictions on their record illegal; 4) Creation of a tenants’ court separate from civil court to guarantee tenants’ rights and provide free council; and 5) Remove COVID-19 evictions from tenant’s records and all prior evictions that have been satisfied.

With the end of the $600 benefit provided to people on unemployment due to COVID as of July 26, more and more working-class people in Milwaukee – particularly predominantly Black and brown communities on the North and South sides – will be at the mercy of predatory landlords. The organizing being done by the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union will only become more important over the coming weeks and months.

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