Evicted : poverty and profit in the American city
By Matthew Desmond
Matthew Desmond examines the role of insecure living situations in the cycle of poverty. I used to think that education was the magic bullet that would allow children to rise from poverty, but after reading this book, I have changed my mind. Without secure housing, every other aspect of life suffers.
Desmond follows several poor Milwaukee residents in their travails to find and keep housing in the inner city. He also reports on two landlords who have made a specialty of renting to the extremely poor. Evictions are common. Rents often take up to 50% of income, or more. It doesn’t take much of a calamity to put the poor behind in their rent, and catching up once behind is unlikely. Once someone has been evicted, their housing options are much restricted, and they end up in a downward spiral of increasingly horrible living conditions, as they are forced to live in apartments that are far from meeting building codes. If they report violations, such as a sink or bathtub that won’t drain, they will be evicted and the cycle begins again. Even calling 911 for a sick child or domestic abuse can result in an eviction, as landlords do not want to become know as a nuisance building. Landlords know that their tenants are in a very vulnerable position, and can slack off on maintaining their buildings, knowing tenants will not file complaints because of fear of eviction.
Desmond also details the industries that have spring up around the poor. In Milwaukee, the landlords profiled make large profits by renting substandard housing to the poor, as do storage locker businesses, payday loans, and credit card companies. Getting ahead of the game is nearly impossible.
This book stressed that the importance of secure housing plays a key role in ending the cycle of poverty. Children were changing schools five times in one year because of frequent moves. Substandard living conditions spawned sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression in those forced to be constantly on the move, looking for some kind of stability in their lives.
Desmond got to know many of these people, and we are introduced to the wide range of people he met while researching this book. Poor choices, drug addiction, a struggling economy, and mental illness all played roles in contributing to the housing crisis faced on a daily basis by these poor Milwaukee residents. Desmond does propose a few solutions at the end of this book. There are some success stories on a very small scale, but most of the people we meet in this book will continue to struggle in their search for a stable home.
–Submitted by Julie Keating, Reference Librarian