Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
By: Matthew Desmond
Published May 1st, 2016
From the Cover
In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.
The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.
Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.
Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.
It’s books like this that make my anthropologist heart skip a beat. This book is a powerful piece of fieldwork and ethnology; it is an incredible work. I think what also made this book so profound was listening to it via audiobook. It is narrated by Dion Graham who does a fantastic job representing the diverse voices Desmond interviews.
I have a feeling the reality this book highlights goes unnoticed by many across America. Eviction is a scary but all too familiar reality to some Americans all over the country. What I think is great about this particular research is that Desmond chose to highlight the city of Milwaukee, WI. He didn’t choose Los Angeles, Atlanta or New York, but instead a city that some people might never have been to or maybe even visited. It’s important because to understand the extent to which people struggle to afford rent and avoid eviction in Milwaukee is to understand that this problem is more widespread than people think. If it is happening in Milwaukee, it’s likely happening in a city or even town near you.
Reading this book feels like a swift punch to the gut. Many of the families included in this book spend up to 80% of their income on housing. Some are disabled. Some are veterans. Some are white. Some are black. Some are addicted to drugs. Some have children. Some are single. Some have made mistakes in their lives that have lead them to their current position. Some are just “unlucky”. All face struggles that seem unimaginable as I sit in a position of privilege: pay for rent or heat during the winter? school supplies for the kids? food for more than one meal a day? car repairs? emergency medical treatment? medications?
What is important to grasp is that eviction is not a simple loss of living space. It goes much deeper than that. Eviction leads to homelessness, loss of possessions, education disruption and school relocation, potential risks to physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. Each successive eviction leads to a decrease in one’s chance at finding another rental property.
After reading this book, I can say that I have absolutely no idea how to solve these problems. They run deep and they run wide. However, this book is still important and needs to be read. Acknowledging and understanding that there is a problem is the first step in finding a solution. I have lived in multiple cities in my life and I now recognize the issues of eviction and lack of affordable housing that were there under my nose the entire time. Read this book, read up about income-restricted affordable housing, disability housing, senior housing, and gentrification in your city.
“Whatever our way out of this mess, one thing is certain. This degree of inequality, this withdrawal of opportunity, this cold denial of basic needs, this endorsement of pointless suffering–by no American value is this situation justified. No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”
Small steps in the right direction: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/biz-columns-blogs/development/article217814295.html
I absolutely love this book and believe it is *SO* important to read about. As someone lucky enough not to have to worry about being homeless, the struggle that all these people went through (and how DIFFERENT each of those struggles were) was truly astounding.