Milwaukee's Rent Crisis Tests Biden's Grip On Swing States In The Upcoming Presidential Election

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Escalating housing costs in key swing states are set to play an important role in shaping voter turnout and preferences in the upcoming 2024 presidential election — and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is an area that President Joe Biden may want to focus on.

Reportedly deemed "horrible" by former President Donald Trump, Milwaukee is the most rent-burdened area in the midwest, outpacing areas like Chicago and Indianapolis. At the same time, Milwaukee exceeds both the local and national averages.

For context, in 2020, Biden narrowly clinched Wisconsin by just 0.63%. The razor-thin victory margin points to a potential influence that Milwaukee’s housing crisis might have on electoral outcomes. 

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As the cost of living continues to outpace wage growth in the area, the pressure on residents — who now allocate an average of 27.4% of their income to housing — could translate into electoral pressures, where even small shifts in voter sentiment might have outsized impacts on the race.

In a move seen as a political flashpoint, the Republican Party has chosen Milwaukee to host their national convention next month. But for people like Elizabeth Brown, a Milwaukee-area mother who is severely rent-burdened, the financial strain pushes the bounds of survivability to a point where, to her and others like her, voting doesn't seem to matter.

"A lot of people don't even want to vote," Brown told "They feel like it doesn't make a difference, no matter who's in office. People are getting fed up."

According to a report issued by Realtor, the median rent in Milwaukee in May was $1,690, a 4.3% increase from the year before and rising much faster than local wages. Nationally, the average rent is $1,612. 

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According to data cited in the Realtor report, over half of Milwaukee’s renters allocate more than a third of their income toward rent, exceeding what is deemed affordable.

The strain is felt most acutely in communities of color — 60% of Latino families and 70% of Black families in the city. The situation has worsened since the 2007 financial crisis when investors began purchasing properties rapidly, driving up rents.

Perhaps a microcosm of other swing states, the rent burdens seen in Milwaukee are part of a broader national issue impacting key electoral battlegrounds. According to Realtor, rent burdens have soared in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — states critical for clinching the presidency.

In Nevada, the housing shortage has become a political topic, with Las Vegas seeing a 36% rise in median rental prices during the pandemic. Similarly, in Georgia, Atlanta has seen an uptick in both home prices and rents, driven by a surge in demand and insufficient supply.

According to the report, in 2016, Trump clinched all of the swing states outside of Nevada, whereas in 2020, Biden managed to secure all except North Carolina.

In April, President Biden responded to the broad housing crisis with proposals to boost housing affordability. These included funding the construction of millions of new homes, offering down payment assistance to first-time buyers, and curbing rent gouging by corporate landlords.

Trump criticized Biden's efforts, suggesting they would undermine suburban communities — a rhetoric he hopes will resonate with his base.

The two candidates will face off in their first presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle on June 27.

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