“The pursuit of happiness is law…”
If I’m going to be frustrated by something it’s better for me to resolve that frustration through some sort of solution-focused action. Otherwise, I’d risk ending up stuck and unable to move forward in a positive direction. So when I began receiving more messages and phone calls from Black mothers asking for help to resolve their housing issues, of course, I found myself frustrated for them.
The lack of urgency from others to resolve the madness is real! Black mothers are blamed for the social ills in the Black community and in the same breath we’re called on to save the world (maybe not the whole world, but it sure feels like it most of the time). The recent changes in Wisconsin’s housing laws are putting Black mother’s pursuit of happiness on the back burner with the quickness.
There are many Black mothers like myself who moved to Madison to provide better outcomes for our families. We’ve left cities with high poverty and crime like Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit for safer neighborhoods, better jobs, good schools, and yes — quality housing, among other things. We moved for cleaner streets, fresh air (literally), great recreational activities. We believed that our move was the best decision for our families. For the most part, the decision to move to Madison was a good choice. Then there are Black mothers who have lived in Madison for most, if not all, of their lives. They decided to raise their kids here and hope that they’d, too, enjoy good living. However we arrived — we are here.
Back to those phone calls and messages. Do you know how it feels to get an eviction notice and not know if you’ll be able to secure housing in the short timeframe you’ve been given? “It hurts,” as local mothers are describing to me while sometimes in tears.
They have been caught up in the recent changes to Wisconsin housing laws and are finding themselves in crisis. For some, a few late rent payments over the last year is reason alone for their leases not to be renewed. In search of another place to live they are facing application fees that put more strain on their budgets. If their credit is poor, they’re getting turned down automatically. Apartment management companies are requiring larger security deposits and incomes that are between two and three times the rent. One woman noted that it seemed as if there’s an agenda to push Black families out of the city and out of the state. If I just skimmed over my recent messages for help — I understand totally how she came to that conclusion.
Black women on average are only earning 63 cents for every dollar that white men take home. Housing costs are rising while at the same time even Black women with a four-year college degree are having a hard time finding a good-paying job. Childcare costs aren’t altogether affordable and mothers are spending sometimes in excess of two hours just on the bus to get to and from work, home, and childcare centers. In some neighborhoods, the grocery store isn’t within walking distance, so mothers are spending their food dollars on cab rides just to keep food in the fridge. So where in all of that is the ease to save 2-3 times the rent, a security deposit that’s higher than the rent, AND the moving costs?
Get our frustrations?
Wisconsin has crafted and passed laws that to me say Black mothers who aren’t high-income earners should pack their belongings and get out. But if you’re in Madison, they’ll tell you to “go back to Chicago!” One of the greatest things that Black mothers need in our pursuit of happiness is very simple and enjoyed by many other groups in our state: economic empowerment. Because at the end of the day, many of us (read Black mothers) do not have the savings to get ourselves out of an emergency requiring even a few hundred dollars, nor can we comfortably make a loan to other Black mothers when they are experiencing a financial emergency.
Instead of creating more barriers for Black mothers, we should be able to pursue happiness without the fear of eviction looming over our peace of mind.