New initiative to examine housing issues in Racine County

RACINE, Wis. – Our Racine County Eye partners are launching a new initiative in September called “Unlocking Racine”. TMJ4 News will also collaborate on the year-long, multi-faceted project.

The stories will range from those experiencing homelessness to the challenges of rising rents and the obstacles faced by new landlords.

Racine County Eye CEO Denise Lockwood said the idea for “Unlocking Racine” began when she received a phone call from a woman in Racine describing her living conditions in an apartment complex. The woman shared with Lockwood that there were bullet holes in the walls and urine bottles in the hallway.

“This place didn’t have a fire extinguisher, they didn’t have the fire lights, the emergency lights that you’re supposed to have by law. And she was scared,” Lockwood said.

As Lockwood learned more, she found a plethora of stories related to housing issues throughout the county.

“We experience this problem in different ways. For a business owner on Main Street, he may have a problem with homelessness (and) begging. Or an employer may not bring his best employee to work because they get kicked out,” Lockwood said of the potential stories that could be told over the next year.

Esther Roberts is a housing advocate who has worked with people experiencing housing instability for the past 12 years. She is now collaborating with Lockwood on “Unlocking Root”.

Roberts identified the power imbalance between landlords and tenants as a key issue. She told the story of a family she worked with who rented a house.

“There was a toilet that hadn’t worked for three months. This mother had three children, she had been using the neighbors bathroom for three months,” Roberts explained. “She was finally so fed up because it smelled so bad and she couldn’t fix it herself, so she just moved out. That’s how evictions happen in the rental community.”

Lockwood also shared with us a preview of one of the first stories that will be featured in the project.

“I’m talking to a woman who has five children, who was the victim of a shooting. Her youngest son is three years old and he just tested positive for lead poisoning because of the lead-based paint in the house” , Lockwood said.

“Unlocking Root” will also feature an artistic component as part of the storytelling.

“There’s going to be an art exhibit where you’re going to have 10 doors…so they’re going to focus on like what this problem is, what this challenge looks like for this person. Then the windows are going to really focus on the opportunities and obstacles. And the keys are going to focus on the solutions,” Lockwood said.

Ultimately, the hope is that through this reporting, solutions will be identified to help and solve the very real issues that families face every day.

To get involved or share your story, click here.

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