The Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council (MMFHC) promotes fair housing and creation of racially integrated communities in the Milwaukee metropolitan area and throughout Wisconsin. Fair housing refers to the opportunity to secure housing and housing-related services such as mortgage loans and home insurance free from discrimination based on race and other protected classes that several states and municipalities have created. Founded in 1977 in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, this private, non-profit organization utilizes a variety of educational and enforcement tactics to combat discrimination and create open communities. With offices in Milwaukee, Madison, and Appleton, MMFHC has become an effective statewide voice and a leading national force for fair housing.
MMFHC is a full-service fair housing advocate. In its enforcement program, volunteers and staff conduct investigations of complaints from individual citizens and systemic investigations of institutional discrimination. It pioneered many of the paired testing techniques utilized by public and private fair housing organizations around the country. Testing is an investigative tool where matched pairs of home-seekers (usually a white and non-white couple, though other groups have been included in such investigations) apply for housing or housing-related services to determine if providers are in compliance with fair housing laws. Where evidence of unlawful discrimination is found, MMFHC refers cases to enforcement agencies (e.g. the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice) and private attorneys who litigate on behalf of complainants.
In outreach and education programs, staff make presentations to consumer groups, college classrooms, and the general public. They provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, social service organizations, and the housing industry. They have also collaborated with community development organizations to create more affordable housing options, a housing trust fund for the City of Milwaukee, and other efforts to expand housing choices and encourage integrated developments.
MMFHC addresses discrimination against a wide range of groups. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status (i.e. presence of children). Wisconsin state law also prohibits discrimination based on age, marital status, lawful source of income, sexual orientation, and domestic abuse victimization. Several local ordinances have additional protected classes including, for example, military discharge status, student status, gender identity, citizenship status, and tenant union association, among others.
MMFHC has addressed a wide range of issues, including discrimination against those seeking to rent or purchase a home, redlining or discrimination by mortgage lenders and insurance companies, predatory lending by financial service providers, foreclosure abuses, and other discriminatory practices. And it has proven effective. In the more than 650 lawsuits it has filed, clients won all but eight cases. Plaintiffs have recovered over $8.2 million in its enforcement actions.
When the National Fair Housing Alliance was created in 1988, the founding board president of that organization was William Tisdale, who has been President and CEO of MMFHC since 1981. MMFHC staff have testified before city, county, state, and federal legislative committees. They have provided training for fair housing groups across the country. MMFHC has been a leading fair housing advocate in Milwaukee, throughout the state, and around the country.
For Further Reading
Jones, Patrick D. The Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Tisdale, William R., and Carla J. Wertheim, “Giving Back to the Future: Citizen Involvement and Community Stabilization in Milwaukee.” In Organizing Access to Capital: Advocacy and the Democratization of Financial Institutions, edited by Gregory D. Squires, 43-54. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2003.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Fair Housing Organizations Use Testing to Expose Discrimination.” Evidence Matters (Spring/Summer 2014).