From Harvard sociologist 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 inequalityand 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.
An excerpt from Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Jori and his cousin were cutting up, tossing snowballs at passing cars. From Jori's street corner on Milwaukee's near South Side, cars driving on Sixth Street passed squat duplexes with porch steps ending at a sidewalk edged in dandelions. Those heading north approached the Basilica of St. Josaphat, whose crowning dome looked to Jori like a giant overturned plunger. It was January of 2008, and the city was experiencing the snowiest winter on record. Every so often, a car turned off Sixth Street to navigate Arthur Avenue, hemmed in by the snow, and that's when the boys would take aim. Jori packed a tight one and let it fly. The car jerked to a stop, and a man jumped out. The boys ran inside and locked the door to the apartment where Jori lived with his mother, Arleen, and younger brother, Jafaris. The lock was cheap, and the man broke down the door with a few hard-heeled kicks. He left ...
Desmond’s important book might set out practical prescriptions for solutions such as improving the size of the housing voucher program, but the deeply touching portraits are what really make Evicted the heavyweight that it is. It should be mandatory reading for everyone, especially politicians and others those who walk the corridors of power. That such bruising poverty can exist in the world’s richest country is a scathing indictment of our regulatory policies.
(Reviewed by Poornima Apte).
In Evicted, one of the solutions that Matthew Desmond recommends is the expansion of the government Housing Choice Voucher program. Called Section 8, this aid was created by Congress in 1974, and is different from public housing in that the latter restricts participants to only certain locations and buildings – the infamous Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago is an example of public housing. The voucher program, instead, can be essentially used to rent a unit almost anywhere. The Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets a fair market rate for rent in different areas. When a family gets off the waiting list for a home, members pay up to 30% of their joint income on housing and the rest is paid — up to the fair ...
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