Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American Cityby Published 01 Mar 2016
|Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.pdf|
New York Times Bestseller
From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City" Reviews
This book describes the misery of living at the ragged edge of homelessness. The first 80 percent of the book follows in detail the experiences of eight low-income families (including both black and white) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The final part of the book is a long Epilogue that provides a concluding summary and a description of how the author collected his information and data by living among the subjects he writes about.
The reading experience of exposure to the stories in this book is disturbing. It includes incident after incident where people are facing miserable dilemmas in their efforts to find housing. It was a relief to reach the Epilogue at the end where I knew there weren't going to be additional hard luck stories to read.
Evictions are a growing problem that is creeping up the economic ladder. The 2008 housing crash and subsequent foreclosures turned millions of former homeowners into renters, which kept rents rising even as incomes fell. [spoilers removed]
The number of low income housing units has not increased to match this demand. Consequently, the only market force preventing rental rates from rising even higher is the ability of renters to pay. The competition for rental space has forced a growing number of low-income households to pay crushing shares of their income for shelter. [spoilers removed]
Another fact brought out by this book is that eviction isn't just another hardship, but rather a forced entry onto a much harder path with harsh consequences—"a cause, not just a condition, of poverty." In other words, once a renter has an eviction on their records, many landlords will be reluctant to rent to them. Even the government low income rental program—which has long waiting lists—consider past evictions to be a negative mark on their record.
Another sad fact is that the frequency of evictions falls disproportionately on poor women. They are more likely to have dependent children under their care which can lead to problems leading to eviction. Also, police calls due to physical abuse inflicted by boyfriends leads to some evictions because police calls are considered to be a undesirable nuisance.
In Milwaukee's poorest black neighborhoods, eviction had become commonplace—especially for women. In those neighborhoods, 1 female renter in 17 was evicted through the court system each year, which was twice as often as men from those neighborhoods and nine times as often as women from the city's poorest white areas. Women from black neighborhoods made up 9 percent of Milwaukee's population and 30 percent of its evicted tenants.Among the individuals interviewed extensively by the author was an entrepreneurial African American woman who is the owner of numerous rental units and is one of the landlords issuing eviction orders. By including the story of a landlord in the book the author has included the other side of the story. Landlords need to maximize the amount of income from their rental units in order pay their bank loans. But one of the points of the book is that there is plenty of money to be made in renting to impoverished tenants. Maintenance and upkeep doesn't cost much because poor people can't complain for fear of eviction.
If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out. [underline emphasis is mine]
Tenants who fell behind either had to accept unpleasant, degrading, and sometimes dangerous housing conditions or be evicted.Evictions have negative consequences for whole neighborhoods, including those remaining who have not been evicted. Evictions destabilize neighborhoods. The more people come and go, the less chance there is for cohesion and neighborhoods become less safe. The effects are enduring, as measured by incidents like hunger or lost utilities.
The year after eviction, families experience 20 percent higher levels of material hardships than similar families who were not evicted.The availability of affordable rental units has not kept pace with the rise in demand. In 1970, the US had nearly a million more affordable units than poor households, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Two decades later, the situation had reversed—there were five million more poor households than affordable units.
In the Epilogue the author makes the case for a universal voucher program. Such a voucher program would need to include some sort of rental rate controls, otherwise increased availability of money would simply increase rental rates. But rental rates would need to be sufficient to make construction of affordable units financially viable. The author believes a comprehensive universal voucher program would change the face of poverty in this country.
Evictions would plummet and become rare occurrences. Homelessness would almost disappear. Families would immediately feel the income gains and be able to buy enough food, invest in themselves and their children through schooling or job training, and start modest savings.Regarding the present situation in the United States, the author has the following comment:
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.
A high 4 stars.
Much has been written about Evicted. There’s not much I can add other than to say everyone should read this book. And not just for the stories of the people the author follows, but for everything at the end about the importance of having an affordable home and the author’s experience of doing the research for the book. It’s a heartbreaking and important book. It brings to life what it means for families and individuals to live in precarious housing situations. He humanize his subjects without romanticizing them.
The audio works well, although it took me a while to keep everyone he refers to straight.
Thanks to all my GR friends who posted enthusiastic reviews.
Matthew Desmond’s research-driven prose is a dazzling work of examination and insight. Within these pages, the business and culture of evictions is dissected down to the very dollars and cents that uphold this thriving industry. The judicial system and the role it plays is scrutinized, and the lives of 8 families are put on intimate display for readers to bear witness to. Within the pages of Eviction, Desmond paints a clandestine portrait of the precarious lives of those living at and below the poverty line in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the time of his research. The survey into this little-known world is done first hand, with the aid of a tape recorder, and thus is the most personal and complete look at modern American poverty that I have read in a long time. Here, readers will follow the desolate, the addicted, the impoverished and the “lords” who shape their lives in these dangerous and volatile social environments called homes.
This book unveiled some of the most stunningly accurate vernacular and dialogue that I have seen anywhere, non-fiction or fiction. (Note to self: if you want to really capture the essence of a culture, use a tape recorder.) With this simple technique, Desmond was able to capture the true personification of the frustration and despair, of their interactions and intentions, and, hence, the dialogue told a story all of its own within these pages. It told a story of where these people came from and how they truly related to one another on a human level. He captured the true swag of these neighborhoods, the soul and essence that can’t be seen at first passing glance out of a car window.
The research in Evicted was expertly incorporated so that it read as fluidly in narrative as a fiction novel, and it was incorporated throughout, which was great, because it allowed the reader to absorb the information with illustrations of narration to make it easier and faster to digest. It also allowed for a read that wasn’t leaden with factoids, reading like a dry and tedious text book. The lives he chose to chronicle and exhibit were harrowing and demonstrative of humanity’s capacity to fail and to survive, to overcome and to find comfort in community. It also pulled back the curtains on this booming industry that both exploits the poor and treats them as expendable members of society.
In Evicted, Desmond dissected a truth that goes back to the Civil Rights Movement when Fair Housing laws were enacted. Stirring and emotional, this read holds a shiny mirror to the face of America. Similar to the PIC (Prison Industrial Complex) the eviction process, nay culture, is a vicious and debilitating cycle with ripple effects into communities. This exposé displayed how crime and evictions go hand-in-hand, each leading to the other with alarming frequency, a form of institutionalized parasitism on the poor at the hands of the judicial system and slum lords (in the instances where there are, in fact, slum lords). Here, Desmond portrays both the crimes that lead to evictions and the evictions that foster a bed of crimes.
This work really appealed to me when I read its blurb, and it did not disappoint. It was not a traumatically graphic read, but it was all consuming. Vignette after vignette portrayed the mental and emotional anguish that living at the poverty line heaps on it dwellers so that the only reprieve came in the form of spirited dialogue and intimate conversations between those he chronicled and their family and friends and from the research that clarified the stats behind their suffering, which was interspersed throughout. Other than that, there was no reprieve from the grief, struggling and suffering and, in a way, I think that that was not only the point of this read but, in many ways, an intellectual profit to the reader. Within these pages, those who could never in their own everyday lives imagine such hardships will be transported over the imaginary line that exists in all cities: the line between the haves and the have nots. That is a line that everyone should cross at some time, so pick up this read preparing to take a journey. Evicted gained itself a strong 4 stars. ****
* I received a copy of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City from the publisher, Crown, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The brutal truth of poverty in America is far more devastating than any fiction ever could be. In evicted, Matthew Desmond brings rigorous sociological research and ethnography to Milwaukee's inner city. This book is painful and necessary and eye opening. I am ashamed of how little I knew about poverty and eviction. This book is fucking depressing and hopeless and excellent. We have got to do better. Also the segregation! And racist ass Ned who made his biracial stepdaughters say "white power" while their mom hoped it wouldn't scar them. What???
A fantastic and difficult book that follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Evicted shows the challenges these white and black families encounter as they fail to pay their rent, get evicted, and experience countless cruelties along the way. The book recognizes these families' humanity by showing their remarkable resilience and kindness as well as their mistakes. Matthew Desmond ends the book by revealing the vast reporting and research he put into Evicted, as well as by suggesting effective and tangible strategies to combat poverty and income inequality within the United States.
I would recommend this book to everyone. It disturbs me to consider how the events in Evicted could happen to anyone if they had been born into more unfortunate circumstances. It is easy to blame poverty on poor people's "lack of willpower" or their "laziness," but in reality it is our fault and our government's fault for not taking the steps to eradicate the societal factors that contribute to eviction and homelessness. I appreciate Desmond for keeping the spotlight on these families, for documenting how social injustice leads to individual suffering, and for publishing such an important book on an under-discussed topic. Please consider learning more, volunteering, and/or donating by checking out this website Desmond provides himself at the end of Evicted: http://justshelter.org/. I feel glad that this book has received high praise and attention, so that we can lend support and compassion to those we may have once paid no attention.