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Manitowoc tenant and activist examine eviction moratorium's stipulations and 'the freeloader'

Posted at 10:49 PM, Jun 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-25 10:28:01-04

MANITOWOC, Wis. (NBC 26) -- Many of Wisconsinites have financially recovered from the pandemic, but thousands of people across the state continue to struggle.

"[My family] could be one crisis away from having difficulty paying our house payment," Grow It Forward Inc. CEO Amber Daugs said.

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It's a feeling thousands of people like Daugs feel every day in Wisconsin.

"I remember the days when we were struggling to make ends meet," the Manitowoc resident said. "And I was near having to live in a car."

The CDC extended an eviction moratorium to July 31 that prevents the eviction of some renters who are unable to make their payments. It's the type of situation Daugs faced when she was homeless.

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"Those memories are very real for me, and I know that they are very real for families right now," Daugs said. "We certainly have heard many different stories of the typical conversation of the freeloader. ... These are individuals that I see who are working in restaurants or perhaps they were in some sort of other industry that had reduction in hours."

According to the Census Bureau, nearly 81,000 Wisconsinites say they have no confidence they can pay next month's rent. That's why Daugs works to provide shelter for those in Manitowoc County.

"We're seeing a large number of individuals, couples and families that are on the wait list to secure proper housing," she said.

Manitowoc landlord Bernie Starzewski says the moratorium doesn't mean a tenant can simply choose not to pay rent.

"[You must] be able to demonstrate that you're cooperating with your landlord and you're at least trying to make partial payments," he said.

Starzewski says people can still be evicted in many cases under the moratorium.

"If you're punching holes in the wall, you're gone," Starzewski said. "And the government is not going to make me keep you because of those circumstances."

Some worry their tenants won't be able to pay back rent when the CDC's initiative ends, but Starzewski says that's not normally a significant concern for many landlords.

"They're in so deep, they can't possibly get out...that's a real possibility," he said about some tenants. "Most people, that I've worked with anyway, will do their level best. If they're unemployed, they'll find some way."

The CDC says this is intended to be the final extension for those behind on rent. More than 16,000 renters in the state say it's very likely that they'll be evicted in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau.