Another proposed state bill that supersedes local laws -- this time those that regulate apartment leases -- could have racial implications, says county Supv. Carousel Andrea Bayrd.
Senate Bill 107, which the Senate approved in June and the Assembly is scheduled to take up this session, would forbid local municipalities from passing laws restricting the criteria by which landlords can select tenants. This would nullify several laws in Dane County and Madison.
Among them are laws both have on the books that forbid landlords from denying a lease based on a criminal conviction that is older than two years.
"The new law will allow you to deny housing based on an arrest. Forever," Baryd says. "If you broke into your junior high gym to play basketball when you were 16, you can be denied housing for the rest of your life. It's hugely severe."
Statewide, African Americans make up 6% of the population but 45% of the prison population. That means "there are huge racial implications," Bayrd says of the proposed law.
Bayrd, who wrote a letter (PDF) to Gov. Scott Walker and Legislature, fears it will further push the poor into ghettos, compounding complex social problems that affect neighborhoods, crime rates and schools.
"People with arrest records are going to...all end up in the same neighborhood," she says. "We're not going to push everyone who has ever been arrested out of the state of Wisconsin."
Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, says the vacancy rate in Madison is currently very low. The proposed law carries lots of other provisions that will further stack the deck against renters. For instance, in Madison, landlords cannot require a minimum income level if renters have paid the same rent in the past.
If the law is passed, Konkel fears it will increase homelessness. "It's really hard for people to find housing right now," Konkel says. "This is going to make it 10 times worse."