A series of electrical fires in Milwaukee, centered in zip code 53206, led investigative reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to uncover a disturbing pattern: fires with faulty wiring as the suspected cause occurred in zip code 53206 — which has 95% Black residents — at 5 times the rate of the rest of the city. Given rental inspection laws that favor landlords and a lack of political will to change the situation, Black and low-income tenants are left with few protections, and the results have been devastating.
“Nearly two-thirds of the fires took place in ZIP codes that are predominantly Black.”
The article states that more than half the population in zip code 53206 are renters and that “electrical fires disproportionately ravage rental properties: A Journal Sentinel analysis of fires from 2009-19 showed that while an average of 30% of the city’s homes were renter-occupied, 62% of suspected electrical fires occurred in rental units. And nearly two-thirds of the fires took place in ZIP codes that are predominantly Black.”
Milwaukee’s procedures for residential inspection have changed dramatically in the last decade due to passage of a series of landlord-friendly bills in Wisconsin. Residential inspection has moved to a complaint-based system, which is deeply flawed. The article explains, “Tenants often don’t have the expertise, and they worry they may be evicted for complaining, said Gregory Miao, an attorney with ChangeLab Solutions, a national health equity and housing improvement group based in Oakland, California. He said at least 15 of the nation’s largest cities, including Baltimore, Minneapolis and Boston, have various types of residential rental inspection programs.” Miao says, “It saves lives.”
“At least 15 of the nation’s largest cities, including Baltimore, Minneapolis and Boston, have various types of residential rental inspection programs.” Miao says, “It saves lives.”