Eastside Housing Action Committee Records, 1972-1999


Inspired by the student activism of the 1960's, six eastside Milwaukee tenants met in an Episcopal church in spring, 1972, to form the Eastside Housing Action Committee (ESHAC). The organization focuses on the problems of an ethnically mixed, deteriorating neighborhood with a high rate of absentee landlordism.

In the first two years, ESHAC staged ten drives for organizing tenants of the eastside's largest landlord and created seven tenant unions. The Committee also held bargaining sessions with six landlords and their tenants to resolve issues such as rent increases and housing maintenance. These efforts met with mixed results because it was difficult to sustain tenant commitment to the organization's long range strategies although solutions to concrete problems were readily acknowledged.

ESHAC acquired VISTA aid when it joined the Milwaukee Associates in Urban Development (MAUD) in February 1973. In July of that year, ESHAC opened its Locust Street office and the scope of its activities broadened from tenant to wider community concerns. This new involvement in more general problems of the eastside neighborhood found expression in organized opposition to city plans to widen Locust Street--a move which would have destroyed numerous housing units and local businesses. Along with success in this effort came a willingness to include local residents on the staff and in the decision-making process. This new input promoted social and cultural interaction among Blacks, Latinos, elderly whites, and youth; rehabilitation of neighborhood housing; and support for community-owned businesses as its main goals. From these broad objectives the organization focuses upon four activities: 1) a community newsletter, 2) improved social services, 3) community economic development, and 4) the creation of the Eastside Housing Center.

The ESHAC newsletter began publication in early 1973 and by 1975 it had a circulation of 2,000 per month and addressed local problems such as blockbusting, tavern issues, housing speculation, youth unemployment, and day care. The Committee's community service activities focuses upon tenant problems for which it established a small claims referral for rental deposit questions and organized “locals” in tenant complexes. Tenants' rights workshops were included in these efforts. ESHAC commitment to neighborhood social services also involves the creation of an integrated community day care center. In addition, the organization played an integral role in the founding of the Gordon Park Food Cooperative in September 1976 to replace a food store that had closed after 42 years of operation. ESHAC also reorganized a floundering printing shop into another cooperative called the Community Press. Finally, in April 1975, ESHAC developed the Eastside Housing Center to promote research and education centered on housing problems which includes absentee landlordism and housing abandonment.