Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

by Matthew Desmond

Paperback, 2017

Call number

339.4 DES

Collection

Publication

Broadway Books (2017), 448 pages

Description

"[The author] 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 dollars 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"--Amazon.com.… (more)

Media reviews

A shattering account of life on the American fringe, Matthew Desmond’s Evicted shows the reality of a housing crisis that few among the political or media elite ever think much about, let alone address. It takes us to the center of what would be seen as an emergency of significant proportions if the poor had any legitimate political agency in American life. ... The son of a working-class preacher, Desmond is an associate professor of social sciences at Harvard, and he did much of his research as he completed a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. Evicted recalls Studs Terkel’s searching representations of ordinary people in their jobs in his 1974 book, Working, and more recently, George Packer’s account of the disintegration of the social contract in The Unwinding in 2013.
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It has been a long time since a book has struck me like Desmond’s “Evicted,” not since Drew Gilpin Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering,” which showed how Americans dealt with their Civil War dead. I suspect the resonance is not coincidental. Desmond, a sociologist at Harvard University, writes about another kind of mass death: The demise of opportunity and of hope that occurs when individuals are forced to leave their homes. ... “Evicted” does not traffic in tired arguments about racial pa­thol­ogies or family breakdown. Rather, Desmond identifies perverse market structures, destructive government policies and the cascade of misfortunes that comes with losing your home. ... “Evicted” is an extraordinary feat of reporting and ethnography. Desmond has made it impossible to ever again consider poverty in America without tackling the central role of housing — and without grappling with “Evicted.”
“Evicted” is a regal hybrid of ethnography and policy reporting. It follows the lives of eight families in Milwaukee, some black and some white, all several leagues below the poverty line. Mr. Desmond, a sociologist and a co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project at Harvard, lived among them in 2008 and 2009. ... The result is an exhaustively researched, vividly realized and, above all, unignorable book — after “Evicted,” it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing. ... “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods,” Mr. Desmond writes, “eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
“Every condition exists, simply because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.” Martin Luther King

Matthew Desmond spent several years in Milwaukee. He lived in a trailer park and rundown apartments, getting first hand experience of living on the outer edge. He puts a face on poverty. He focuses on eight families, white and black and takes us through their daily lives. He also follows around a couple of landlords, so we get to see things from their perspective. This is heart-breaking stuff. It is also, one small snap-shot, of a dire situation, that plagues many of our cities.
Many poor spend more than half of their earnings on housing, leaving very little for food and other necessities. Eviction rates are soaring, putting many in a death spiral.
Desmond has done an outstanding reporting job. He is thorough and compassionate. Narrative nonfiction at it's finest. This should be required reading. A real eye-opener.
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond is a knockout piece of reporting. Desmond focuses on an overlooked trap for the poor, unaffordable housing. In this study of the north and south sides of Milwaukee, he shows us from the inside how housing alone takes a huge portion of what little money the poor have, and how small episodes or falling behind on the rent can lead to mushrooming evictions that cause evicted tenants to spiral into worse and worse conditions. Evicted once, because your child threw something out of the window or your company was too noisy, and that blemish on your record likely means even marginally desirable housing will no longer be available. Families must move into worse squalor and more danger, often over and over. And this doesn't even include the many ways landlords screen potential tenants from getting housing in the first place, based on color (illegally) or having children (lawfully), or evict based on how they feel about the particular tenant.

The burden falls heavily on women, particularly with so many minority men away in prison. “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.” Life's issues become distilled to the point where many tenants do all they can just to stave off the departure day. Desmond stays in a horribly maintained, but lucrative to the landlord, trailer park on the mainly white south side, and in an impoverished area on its mainly black north side. He manages to bond with both landlords and tenants, for reasons that are explained in the Epilogue. He follows eight people closely, two of them landlords trying to maximize profit, who have their own views to share on who's to blame for the seeming unfairness, and the squalor and unsafe conditions.

If tenants complain, they may get evicted. If they call in a building inspector, they likely will. With rent taking up more than half of whatever small amount they are able to make at restaurants or part-time construction and so on, or from disability payments and the like, any unexpected expense - e.g. a funeral, a pair of shoes for a graduation - can irretrievably throw them off their rental payment schedule and lead to eviction.

Only a few lucky ones make it into scarce public housing or get rental vouchers. Meanwhile, the price of small, inadequate apartments in undesirable areas goes up and up.

We also see how tenants can hurt themselves, e.g. through drug addiction or conflict-causing behavior. Or how the simple desire to treat themselves to something enjoyable, e.g. a good meal, or perfume, can be so detrimental when they have so few dollars to work with. Research shows "that under conditions of scarcity people prioritize the now and lose sight of the future, often at great cost." Desmond shows up close the difficulties and frustrations of "now" that can affect every day of their lives.

He also convincingly shows the difference having a decent home makes.

"{A} good home can serve as the sturdiest of footholds. When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers and citizens.

If Arleen or Vanetta didn't have to dedicate 70 or 80 percent of their income to rent, they could keep their kids fed and clothed and off the streets. They could settle down in one neighborhood and enroll their children in one school, providing them the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships with friends, role models, and teachers."

Instead, our "cities have become unaffordable to our poorest families, and this problem is leaving a deep and jagged scar on the next generation."

Desmond gives a balanced, thorough and honest (read those notes) analysis, and provides reasonable, achievable suggestions for what we can do. One example is providing lawyers to tenants who are in court for eviction, like we do accused criminals who can't afford a lawyer. Studies have shown what a difference that makes, as normally only the landlords have a lawyer, and the tenants either don't bother to show up, figuring it's a lost cause, or have little clue as to how to help themselves. Once evicted, the downward spiral begins. More extensive use of vouchers is another example. He persuasively shows the cost savings (e.g. in shelter costs) and cites programs like one in New York that have demonstrated such savings.

Desmond says that, when giving talks, he's often asked, "How did you feel when you saw that", and "How did you get that sort of access." Desmond's answer:

"I'm interested in a different, more urgent conversation. 'I' don't matter. I hope that when you talk about this book, you talk first about Sherrena and Tobin, Arleen and Jori, Larraine and Scott and Pam, Crystal and Vanetta - and the fact that somewhere in your city, a family has just been evicted from their home, their things piled high on the sidewalk."

This is the kind of extraordinary book that only comes along once in a great while. The amount of effort and dedication that went into creating it is staggering. It makes me think of There Are No Children Here, which helped convince us do away with the failed model of high rise public housing, and Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which showed us a kind of life few of us would have ever imagined. Five stars, easy.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
I found this book to be very well researched, and well written, but emotionally hard to read. Desmond immersed himself in his study by living in extremely impoverished neighborhoods and observing both sides of the eviction process. He presented an up-close picture of how it affected individuals, families, and communities. He includes a variety of heartbreaking personal stories.

I learned a lot, but must admit, I found it overwhelming. Poverty, drugs, greed, and lack of opportunities for education and jobs are enormous problems. Desmond's analysis of inner city living raised many more questions than he anticipated. Though the scope of poverty was much broader than his chosen eviction topic, his problem solving suggestions are thoughtful and hopeful. Desmond proposes: if having a stable home were a right for all, it would alleviate much suffering (for everyone) and offer support for meaningful lives.

Really, every American should read this.
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LibraryThing member benruth
This was one of my favorite LibraryThing galleys in recent memory. Several families are followed in some detail, as are their landlords, creating a nuanced portrait of the lives and struggles of both sides. It is not a heartwarming story; the challenges of these Milwaukee families seem endless and are sometimes worsened by their own decisions. It's a great work of layperson's sociology, though; for all the controversy about this kind of work in the sociological world, it's the only way many of us will come to see some part of the lives of people we wouldn't normally encounter with enough depth to lead to any understanding of what they face.… (more)
LibraryThing member streamsong
When Matthew Desmond started his post-graduate studies in sociology, he chose one of the US's most thorny problems – poverty. Specifically he looked at the poverty in his mid-size city of Milwaukee by immersing himself in the living situations and getting to know the people. What resulted is this riveting account of what he found.

The poorest segment of society tend to not live in government sponsored housing, but in privately owned units. And while a lucky few have housing vouchers to help them along, many end up paying 80% or more of their income for housing which can only be defined as sub=par. These are the people who can easily fall behind on their rent and be evicted.

Eviction can happen for many reasons – too many 911 calls when your child has asthma attacks and needs an ambulance to the hospital or reporting an abusive boyfriend breaking down your door. More women than men are evicted. Having children ups the chance that you will be evicted. Black women with children have the highest percentage of evictions.

And the record of these evictions keep the tenants from acquiring other housing and so the cycle continues and spirals downward.

Since tenants are very rarely able to acquire housing the eviction is executed, the tenant is likely to lose all their possessions each time an eviction happens. Furniture, toys, winter clothing even medicines disappear.

Eviction causes job loss as tenants appear in court, and then follow dozens of housing calls before finally being accepted, as well as finding accommodations outside a commuting area. Evictions cause kids to need to change school districts. It causes depression which can last for years after the event – which in these peoples' lives evictions can happen time and time again as there is no way to catch up. The depression is cumulative and so, evictions can make suicide rates rise.
It's capitalism at it's worse – misery economics. The landlords want to realize as much money as possible and do as little maintenance as possible; the renters require housing that gives them a measure of safety.

All of these facts in this well documented book are told within the story of people living their lives. It reads much like narrative non-fiction, backed up by numerous well footnoted studies.

The author believes that the system can be overhauled in a way that, while it may be more expensive now, will decrease costs to society downstream. It's a tragedy that shouldn't be overlooked or allowed to continue, but I believe that this is a problem that the free market won't solve by itself without increasing government involvement and regulations, which, the incoming administration probably won't do.
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LibraryThing member AnnieMod
I've never had troubles making money for rent - my life had worked out this way. It may have been a mix of choices and luck but I've never really thought about being evicted and what people go through when it happens.

The people in this book are in that situation all the time - getting evicted because they have no money and either getting rejected for another home because of the eviction or getting worse and worse places. Some of them have children, some of them have drug issues and being kicked out does not help much, some of them had always lived in this vicious cycle. Which does not mean that they are blameless - it is hard to say what was the initial problem and what led to the other - poverty or drug abuse; homelessness or the loss of any hope.

Desmond moved into one of the worst sections of Milwaukee in order to observe and try to understand homelessness and evictions. The story shifts between a few of the families that he met and all of them are broken people. Most of them actually have families but either do not want to burden them or are too ashamed to ask for help. And their stories are heart-breaking - even when they are to be blamed for the next part of their saga, it is still hard to read. And it is as hard to read the two stories of the renters that we get - there is greed but there is humanity (occasionally). And together with the personal stories we also get some analysis and history of the evictions in the United States.

I am not sure that I agree with all the conclusions in Desmond's but it still need to be read. It is a story of a cycle that is very hard to break and in which once you enter, it is almost impossible to get out - a single eviction disqualifies you from a lot of options. There are also some chilling stories - a local law that existed well into the 21st century that allowed a landlord to evict a woman legally for calling the police when she is abused (now that law is thankfully changed) or the fire that killed a baby because everyone was too busy doing... nothing. And they are just part of the everyday life of people that are already vulnerable.

As hard as it is to read some parts of this book, its story is important. Even if you think that people should pay for their own choices, eternal punishment should not be part of it. It is reporting from the front lines of an undeclared war - the war of poverty and hopelessness. Choices (especially bad ones) cannot be excused but it is not always all about choices. Throw a side dish of racism, discrimination and human greed and the situation gets even worse.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member bfister
An astonishingly good book that examines the lives of poor residents of Milwaukee and the struggles they have with affordable, stable housing. (Landlords and their employees are also profiled.) It turns out housing has become much more unaffordable in recent years and losing your place of residence has all kinds of consequences. The author's research (both qualitative - the narratives that form most of the book) and quantitative is a model of ethical engagement with social problems. He doesn't leave us simply feeling despair, though - he has suggestions that could go a long way toward solving this solvable problem.… (more)
LibraryThing member DDay
This book is not only so good, it is so important. The author immerses himself in a few rental communities in Milwaukee and delves deep into the problems facing low-income housing. He gives an honest and complex portrayal of the many parties and shows how people can't easily be categorized as "good" or "bad". Usually when I like a book this much I can't put it down, but that wasn't the case here. I often had to take breaks just to digest and reflect on what I had read. The book was almost too depressing but is helped greatly by the last chapter when the author looks a possible solutions to some of these problems. I really wish we could make this book required reading for every elected official.… (more)
LibraryThing member ThePortPorts
This is an excellent book. I am not a huge non-fiction reader; indeed, I have to actively plan to read non-fiction, or it just doesn't happen. So often, non-fiction just... plods.

But this book does not plod. It is vibrant - depressingly so, really. I work with many "disadvantaged" people in my professional life, and the stories in Evicted have helped me gain a more visceral understanding of how families struggle, of why people may not know their own addresses, of why they may not finish school or know how to use a phone or ... how to do many of the things I learned to do in my stable childhood. When I think of not having money as a kid.... my life was never like this.

Perspectives are different when you have nothing, or when you lose the little you have.

Poverty is a cycle that reinforces itself. Systems put in place to "help" often deepen the problem. We put people who live on the edge in impossible situations and then blame them for not "making it." This is a must-read book for all those who say that people should just "pull themselves up by the boot straps."

Not everyone has boots.

Needless to say, I'm glad to have read this book.

(I received a copy of this book for free through a Goodreads Giveaway. My opinion of this work was not affected by this, however.)
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LibraryThing member banjo123
This is a well reviewed sociological book, about people experiencing evictions and homelessness in Milwaukee. I was not overly impressed by the book. I think maybe because I have worked in social work, with people living in poverty, for so many years, nothing in the book surprised me. Perhaps for people without that background, the book would be enlightening.

Desmond follows a group of individuals experiencing poverty and housing insecurity, and most of the book tells about their individual stories. Rough stuff all around. I wished he had spent more time putting the stories into context, so that we had a better idea of how representative (or not) these individuals were. Most of that information was in the foot-notes, cumbersome to get to, and the last chapter.

The last chapter was the most interesting to me. Desmond highlights the number of social problems that are made worse be housing instability. (disruption to children's education; inability to focus on other long-term goals, vocational, educational, or addiction recovery.) I thought he made a good case, but then, with me he was preaching to the choir. He advocates for creating a right to housing; and recommends housing vouchers as the way to do this. Apparently this has worked well in other countries. I would have liked more details on how this could work.
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LibraryThing member msbaba
In “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” Harvard Sociologist and MacArthur “genius award” winner Matthew Desmond brings to the general reading public the ethnography underpinning his academic findings about the effects of eviction on America’s poor. This is a standout work of sociological fieldwork, a work that should interest anyone who desires to improve his or her knowledge of the relationship between public policy and poverty in America.

While it is definitely a scholarly book aimed specifically at the general reading public, the book is so masterfully written, it could easily be mistaken for a page-turner. It pulls the reader into and through the text carried along on the sheer force of its emotional content as well as the eloquence of its descriptive prose. Equal parts fascinating and gut-wrenching, “Eviction” offers an unparalleled window into a world few of us would otherwise ever get a chance to experience: the world of the evicted urban poor.

Most of the academic findings in this book were published a few years ago and it is easy to access them on the Internet if you chose. See, for example, the author’s two articles in the American Journal of Sociology: “Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty” (volume 118, number 1, July 2012, pages 88-133) and “Disposable Ties and the Urban Poor” (volume 117, number 5, pages 1295-1335).
Those papers were based on the extensive sociological fieldwork he conducted in Milwaukee during the one-and-a-half year period from May of 2008 until December of 2009. That fieldwork is what is brought to life between the covers of this book, now published some four years after the academic papers noted above.
During his fieldwork, Desmond lived side-by-side with the urban poor in two destitute neighborhoods. There, he met a number of individuals going through evictions. He gained their trust and explained his research goals. Subsequently, they allowed him access to their lives. He was able to follow them throughout the eviction process. He spent countless hours with them in homes, churches, courtrooms, shelters, and social service offices. He interviewed them and recorded conversations. He also established relationships with several landlords and building managers, including two landlords from whom he rented during his fieldwork. Some of the landlords knew what he was doing as a researcher, others saw him only as another poor tenant.
This book is the story of that experience: a detailed and almost literary account of his ethnographic fieldwork in Milwaukee from 2008 through 2009. The names of the individuals were changed to protect their identity.

Unraveling the root causes of poverty in America is enormously complex. It has also become an increasingly important public policy topic. Based on this fieldwork, it is Desmond’s conviction that evictions are a major cause rather than merely a symptom of poverty. In this book, he also shows that households headed by women are more likely to face eviction than men and this results in extremely damaging long-term effects. In story after story, he shows how police, landlords, and local government officials deal with tenants and how this increases the problems and adds to the cycle of poverty. One of the key findings that Desmond uncovered during the course of his research was that women reporting domestic violence were often evicted. This happened because of a local ordinance that classified such reports as “nuisance calls.” Once evicted, it was extremely difficult for these women to pull themselves out of poverty.

It goes without saying that the book is filled with gut-wrenching stories. As I turned the pages—pulled along by pure fascination for a world hitherto outside my experience—I had to stop often and wonder why I was forcing myself to experience so much empathetic heartache. But I knew the answer: one cannot begin to deal with public policy issues of the poor without trying to deal with the type of knowledge that this book imparts. If you just read the academic material on this subject, you’ll miss the human element. That is the gift that this book offers: a chance to understand, and most of all “feel,” what it must be like to be poor and evicted in America.

What’s covered in this book has wide-reaching sociological, economic, and political ramifications. It is an important book that should be read by local politicians, political analysts and consultants, police, firemen, social workers, judges, lawyers, urban policy planners, and anyone else who wants to understand this issue on a cultural and emotional level. This book easily gets my highest recommendation.
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LibraryThing member Sheila1957
Following 2 landlords and 6 tenants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin we see what happens when a tenant does not pay the rent and the landlord evicts them. The story is presented with both sides represented. The reader can make up his/her own mind. I know I felt a lot of anger towards the landlords. I also felt anger towards the government for allowing the substandard housing to be rented. I could understand both sides but I did come down on the side of the tenants. With decent housing, they may be able to make a better life for themselves and their children.

This book brings out a reaction in the reader. I could not remain objective.
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LibraryThing member lisan.
When my husband worked for a non-profit that housed Albuquerque's homeless I was upset, but not surprised, to discover that in 2010 there was there was only one county in the entire USA that offered affordable rent (that is rent that was 30% of a salary of someone working 40 hours a week on federal minimum wage).

I received this book through a giveaway listed by Crown Publishing through librarything.com I had been interested to read it due to my husband's past work in homelessness, and my own struggles in the past to pay rent. While I deeply empathize with the people in this book who struggle with poverty every day, there is no way I could ever fully understand the exhaustion they live with every day just trying to keep a roof over their heads. From the beginning I was drawn into the world of Milwaukee's poverty stricken, and the humanity that Desmond gave them. He presented them as whole people, ones that sometimes made choices that do not seem rational to those who are not in their shoes, ones that made mistakes. The descriptions he gave of their lives, and the way he let them explain their thought processes and tell their stories was wonderful. I believe he did a great job of making people who don't live that life have an understanding of how impossible the idea of a better life seems. When I first read of Larraine's spending of her extra money on junk sold on TV, my instinct wass to be angry, but when I heard of how she just can't think about tomorrow because today is already too much to deal with I could completely empathize. Sometimes days in my life seem too much to deal with, and I'm not facing homelessness, hunger, and extreme cold.

The epilogue that talked about Desmond's ideas for improving housing in America were interesting, but to me in seemed much too idealistic. Idealism is a good place to start, but the shiny pictures he painted of a grand, glorious future in a world without evictions was much too simplistic. As my husband has discovered while housing the chronically homeless, putting a roof over the heads of people who have lived in extreme poverty is just the first step. Actually learning to live in a house, and learning to plan for more than one day at a time takes quite a bit of work.

I appreciated the meticulous notes that Desmond spent years collecting. The data he has posted online is staggering, and a great step forward in understanding how lack of housing deeply affects the poor people of America. The notes he included in the book really helped my understanding of his research, and his day to day life with the people he was interviewing.

All in all this is an amazing book that put a human face to the problems of extreme poverty in one American city. I highly recommend looking further into the research Desmond has posted online, and I hope to see a more accessible website in the future. I would love to see the photos he took during his time in Milwaukee, and I think it would be nice to have his statistics in a place where they might be easier to read. I wish him luck in his future research and writing.
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LibraryThing member Bookish59
How does one live and function without a home? Where does (s)he eat, shower, sleep, stay warm, keep possessions, experience privacy and safety, study, make plans, raise a family without a home? What happens to human beings without homes? What happens to neighborhoods / community, and society when people don’t have homes? How do we resolve housing issues?

Sociologist, Matthew Desmond has studied poverty for years and in Evicted; Poverty and Profit in the American City, he addresses many of these questions. He lived in the field of Milwaukee’s inner-city so he could experience the same environment of the evicted tenants he interviewed. As with Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America in (which I read in 2011), I learned much about the poor I didn’t know. (I suggest reading these 2 books together.)

The number of people evicted each day in the US is staggering. While, unsurprisingly, blacks suffer more evictions than whites, it is women, especially families with children who are evicted most often, (and who are most discriminated against when housing is available). Housing prices have increased making it virtually impossible for the poor to pay for rent and food, or rent and medicine, clothing, car repairs, and other necessities. They can’t afford to eat healthfully, and resort to using the emergency room for medical care. And because they can’t get to work without their cars, they lose their jobs, get evicted, have to pay to store their furniture and belongings (or have them left in the street!), all of which continues a downward spiral until they can never catch up. Many desperate tenants, usually moms with children, snap up smaller apartments in more dangerous areas for nearly the same price just to have a roof over their heads. Other mothers pray there is room in shelters. They spend hours calling family, friends, government agencies, or religious organizations for assistance with either getting funds to pay rent or to find apartments. Many inner-city apartments in varying states of disrepair are rented at similar (and sometimes higher) rates than comparable apartments in safe, middle-class neighborhoods!

While non-payment of rent is the most prevalent reason for building owners / landlords to evict, those who complain about deplorable and unsafe conditions in their apartments, (landlords often blame tenants themselves for these conditions whether true or not) are likely to be evicted. (How is that legal?) Those who call 911 because of criminal activity in their buildings may be evicted because Milwaukee imposes a fine on landlords whose buildings require more policing. Landlords find it more expedient and profitable to evict rather than spend money repairing apartments, or paying fines. There is always another desperate person or family looking for an apartment. Other tenants are evicted because the government suddenly has decided the building is unsafe (as it has been for years) but rather than make quick repairs at the owners’ expense or find alternative housing for these tenants they simply toss them out like trash!

American housing policies favor the home-owner and landlord with financial incentives/ tax breaks, and the freedom to raise rents at will. Housing is a money-making business rather than a system of providing shelter to all its citizens. Many landlords, especially those who own or manage buildings in inner-city and poor neighborhoods, have quickly learned how to reap fast profits with little financial outlay, displaying no concern for their tenants’ needs. Because many of these tenants are uneducated, considered undesirable and worthless to society, they are vulnerable to the greed of unscrupulous landlords.
Indifferent government bureaucracy keeps this inefficient, abusive and life-numbing system running: by not offering these tenants legal representation, or explaining their rights, by scheduling housing court appointments during work hours, by not checking the apartments and demanding landlords make repairs before tenants can be evicted for non-payment of rent, and because it’s easier to continue this untenable status quo without incentives to change and improve.

Eviction, especially chronic eviction is destructive to families and communities, and therefore for American society. It is a vicious cycle that causes and/or contributes to poor physical and mental health, joblessness, hopelessness, criminality and violence, only increasing poverty in and disenfranchisement of whole neighborhoods. This creates a lack of stability and consistency discouraging the growth of healthy roots of friendship, unity and support which is vital and imperative to all strong, safe and viable communities.

Desmond feels that voucher programs in operation today in many cities are one solution but need to be expanded to include many more people.

Just as the middle-class and wealthy live in healthy, safe, vibrant homes and neighborhoods; the poor should too. Let’s adjust our attitude and policies toward the poor and vulnerable from indifference, greed and pity to inclusion and proactive, innovative, solid welfare and action.

If we all want to live in a strong, secure, nurturing society we need to reduce poverty by eliminating evictions (especially of families with children), simplifying access to clean, attractive, affordable housing, ensuring the right to healthy food at fair prices, making top notch education available to all, providing good-paying jobs in all sectors along with child care. And probably most importantly, (and most idealistic) the creation of a system which offers guidance and support physically, psychologically, emotionally and financially to everyone before problems and issues escalate.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
This book sheds light on an important and understudied factor in the cycle of poverty, the search for affordable housing. To gain insight into this problem, Desmond spent time living in a trailer park and a rooming house in Milwaukee, WI. He got to know landlords and tenants, earned their trust, and learned their stories. He discusses the phenomenon of eviction by sharing the stories of several of these individuals. He adds context to his findings by collecting and analyzing comprehensive quantitative data about evictions in the city of Milwaukee.

The book is extremely well written. Desmond provides a balanced perspective of both landlords and tenants. He writes about all parties with respect and does not rely on easy explanations for complex circumstances. While the majority of his book is descriptive, he also discusses the policy implications of his findings. He provides clear evidence that eviction has wide-reaching implications and that a single break can help an individual escape the cycle of poverty.
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
"Evicted" was an enlightening and very sad look at the state of "fair housing" (or lack thereof) in a few poor inner-city Milwaukee neighborhoods. I found Desmond's journalism by living in the situation incredibly compassionate and also, fair and impartial. What was fascinating in particular were the viewpoints and life stories of what we so commonly call slum landlords, alongside the tenants. All very human and no one is completely at fault, nor completely free of fault, in a system that is already grievously crippled, and many people are simply born into. Desmond's writing is outstanding, aways bringing the reader back to the story of the moment. I finished this sizable book in a couple of days. I still find myself wondering what happened to some of the folks in the book. With such a volatile political climate going on right now, I find it sad, frustrating and telling that not one candidate, on either side of the fence, has ANY clue about this huge issue plaguing our country's cities, or more accurately, none seem to care. I learned a lot in how this basic need, not only do so few have, but it has a ripple effect further destabilizing entire neighborhoods, cities and towns. People simply cannot turn their lives around, no provide for their families, if 80% or better of their income is going to housing. It's an impossible task. I am grateful to have won this book to read or I never would have known about any of this. Very highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member jec27
Desmond's book tells a sad story about poverty that goes deeper than lack of sufficient income to pay rent, but the poverty of spirit that permeates the lives of these landlords and tenants who take advantage of each other and contribute to each other's miseries.
Reading as a landlord but not of trailer parks or inner-city tenements, these stories demonstrate so clearly how off-base is the expectation of a simple relationship where landlords rent property to tenants who pay rent.
Tenants sign leases and disregard them when they decide to leave in the middle of the day or night; tenants destroy property either carelessly or intentionally; tenants in financial trouble do not sit down with landlords who might listen and try to work out a solution. Not all, but many, that is. On either side of the story, landlords who are not negligent money-grubbers and tenants who do pay rent and respect themselves and the property they occupy do not get much attention. But this book is about eviction and the obvious and pitiful impact it has on the lives of everyone involved.
Desmond proposes housing vouchers for lower-income or welfare-dependent individuals and families. New housing laws by the current administration intend to force the integration of housing projects into neighborhoods where people who can generally move to escape them.
Housing vouchers will help some, most government programs help some people and give them the hand-up they need, but in my view, government programs do not help most people, but as we see in our present-day socialistic mindset of "free stuff" even for those who are not poor financially, it just generates more gimme, gimme or I'll take it from you attitude.
People cannot be grouped together by skin color or economic situation because they live according to who they are as individuals and any real help should be designed for the individual, or the family unit.
Government and big business partnerships may work better; tax breaks and credits for businesses who hire, train and build housing for the willing. Ownership opportunities and standards of care and upkeep. And instead of $3 from every tax filer for general election fund, use it to clean up and maintain the inner cities. And, landlords perhaps should be restricted to charging tenants that magic 30 percent number, and if they receive welfare, have it deposited directly and automatically. And, require third party audits of properties and penalties, including confiscation of property, for tenants who egregiously violate health and safety standards.
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LibraryThing member sfosterg
I won a copy of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City through Librarything's Early Reader program in exchange for an honest review.

If I may be so bold as to say that Evicted may become a classic in social science literature. Sociologist, Matthew Desmond, chronicles the lives of landlords and tenants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He intertwines facts and statistics to provide context to the stories presented in his work. It is a work of scholarship that reads like a novel.

Personally, the book created an emotional undertow when reading it. Evicted depicted the hopelessness and downward spiral of poverty in America and the social, economic, physical and emotional toll of being evicted. The work also demonstrated the policy-in-experience of laws that are on the books, such as landlords being responsible for the criminality of their tenants. Tenants can be evicted if there are more than three emergency calls to a unit within a month. The result is that women in abusive relationships need to decide whether to get beat up or evicted. In one circumstance, one of the factors that lead to a family being evicted after living in an apartment for a month is that the mother called an ambulance because her son had an asthma attack. The police weren't even called, but it was labeled a 'nuisance building'' because of other contributing factors such as the babysitter knocking on a neighbor's door asking for weed and one of the sons throwing something out of a window. The family was notified of the eviction after the funeral of another family member. There are so many other tales like this.

I want to know if anything has changed for anyone in the book. Is Scott still clean? What happened to Venetta in prison and after she was released? Has anyone found a place to call home?

Evicted should serve as a wake up call for everyone to understand how finding a place to call home can be so elusive to those in grinding poverty.
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LibraryThing member teresakayep
Matthew Desmond's ethnographic study of the housing crisis among the poor in Milwaukee has won multiple awards, including the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award. It's easy to see why. Desmond lived in a trailer park and then in an inner-city rooming house, getting to know the renters and their landlords and learning about the crises that led to eviction and how difficult it was for the evicted to get back on their feet.

The book follows eight families through the struggle to find and keep secure housing. These aren't perfect people. Some have addictions, some commit acts of violence, and others just make big errors in judgment, but the mistakes and their penalties create a situation that these families cannot seem to escape, even when they do everything right.

Desmond tells these stories with detachment, avoiding the first-person until the epilogue, where he explains his methods. He provides extensive notes for the research he cites, and he also indicates in the endnotes when he's describing in incident he didn't observe himself. The research appears to be meticulous, and it's only near the end of the book that he steps back to talk solutions. For most of the book, he focuses on showing the scope of the problem.

Because Desmond spends so much time with the people he writes about, he's able to present a multi-faceted view of their lives, showing how they dream of doing better and sometimes manage for a short time. And he doesn't pretend that they get everything right, but he puts the mistakes in context, as when he tells the story of one woman, Larraine, who spent almost all of her food stamps for the month on a lobster dinner. It was a celebratory dinner on her anniversary with her late husband, and, for her, it was worth it.

Toward the end of the book, Desmond starts talking solutions, focusing mostly on housing vouchers that would enable tenants to pay no more than one-third of their income on rent. I don't know if this is the best solution, but the book makes clear that something needs to be done.

This is an excellent book, even if it left me rather overwhelmed with the scope of the problem. I'm not sure what I can do with the knowledge, but I hope that at least it will help me be a more informed citizen.
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LibraryThing member dele2451
The granular details contained in Desmond's extensive fieldwork in the Milwaukee inner city housing market make it readily apparent he truly lived and breathed this intense, complicated sociological project for many years. I'm not typically a huge numbers cruncher and I certainly don't wish to dismiss the significant pain associated with some of these accounts, but the incredibly enlightening (and very disturbing) court/real estate/eviction/social services statistics he deftly incorporates into the personal stories of these low income renters and investment property landlords are the real take away in this book. The nuisance ordinance numbers (as well as the author's follow-up research on their unintended consequences, especially to households with young children and domestic violence victims) are especially compelling and should be required reading for all leaders of city law enforcement organizations. Desmond and his publisher describe his work as an social science ethnography, but it also a first-rate piece of long-term investigative journalism that effectively tells the human impact of insufficient housing backed up by hundreds of thousands of bits of impartial data assembled through court eviction/conviction records, housing reports, 911 transcripts, etcetera. Highly recommended for those involved in social/health and human services careers/fields of study, federal and state housing policy/funding, small claims court litigation, or anyone purchasing/investing in rental properties in US metropolitan areas. Thank you very much to LT Early Reviewers and the publisher (Crown) for making this much-appreciated book available to me--I will never look at a "For Rent" sign the same way again.… (more)
LibraryThing member barefeet4
A well written and eye-opening book about poverty and housing in America. The narrative style is easy to read but the depressing and disturbing subject matter meant that I had to take frequent breaks from this book. I appreciated that at the end of the book he took the time to offer his recommendations and insights into how this problem might be addressed and to discuss how he was able to learn about these individuals but also touched on the limitations to his approach. I work in public health and have encouraged all of my coworkers to read this book to provide a glimpse into an aspect of the lives of those we serve that is too often overlooked.… (more)
LibraryThing member ozzer
EVICTED is a remarkable examination of eviction as it is practiced in contemporary America. Desmond makes important generalizations by closely observing just a few individuals in one location. The location is Milwaukee, a city that exists on the fringes of the American poverty scene and considered by some to be a poster child for how cities can contend with poverty.

He profiles both landlords and tenants attempting to remain balanced. Shereena is a classical slumlord in an inner city black neighborhood and Tobin caters to poor whites in a trailer park. Both are wealthy and highly entrepreneurial. They use eviction and the threat of eviction as a tool to control their tenants and a means to limit exposure to municipal codes while maintaining the highest possible return on their investments. The fear of eviction keeps the tenants from complaining about their living conditions. If it comes to eviction, the deck is overwhelmingly stacked in favor of these landlords because in eviction court they are represented by sleazy lawyers while the tenants often are unable to even show up because of fear of losing their jobs, inability to get child care, or just not receiving the summons because of their unstable living conditions.

The tenants profiled in the book are definitely not angels. They suffer from a variety of problems characterized by substance abuse, unemployment, underemployment, child abuse, mental illness, low self-esteem, lack of adequate education and physical disability. One thing they all have in common however is that they spend 70-80% of their pitiful incomes on rent, with little left for utilities, food or other necessities. Arlene is a single mother who spends most of her time looking for housing she can afford and that will accept children. Scott is a former nurse who became addicted to opioids on the job resulting in the loss of his license. Crystal and Vanetta live together just to be able to afford rent. Lamar is an amputee who lost his legs to frostbite while sleeping outside in winter.

What are some of the things Desmond generalizes from observing these people? Although expensive, housing is often unfit for human habitation and there are few recourses for getting things fixed because there is a shortage of housing at this level and it is often easier for the landlord to evict complainers than fix things. Many of these people have made bad choices in their lives and seem to continue to do so. Among these is a surprising level of generosity. They share space they do not have, chip in to buy food for a starving child, “loan” money to pay rent and utilities for others despite knowing that there is no way that they will ever be repaid, even provide a fix when a fellow addict is in need. Landlords view women with children as just too risky. Childhoods are curtailed and wrecked by the unsettled nature of their existences.

After spending time with these people, Desmond comes to several important conclusions. Particularly noteworthy are the following: shelter is a basic human right: “I think that we value fairness in this country. We value equal opportunity. Without a stable home, those ideals really fall apart.” “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.” “If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women.”
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LibraryThing member BLBera
Evicted by Matthew Desmond is a well researched study of housing, specifically eviction, as it relates to poverty. Desmond follows the lives of several people who have been evicted, as well as a couple of landlords. Through these lives, we see how losing a place to live impacts every other aspect of people's lives. We also see how the poor do not have equal protection under the law. There is no due process in housing court.

Toward the end of the book, Desmond sums it up: "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."

This is a real human rights crisis here, in the US, and this book effectively draws attention to it. Desmond's extensive research and vivid testimony deserves our attention and action.
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LibraryThing member bibliophileofalls
This was a powerful, meaningful book filled with personal life experiences that approached the subject of inner city housing from a different angle. The author's premise is that very sub-standard housing is a cause of poverty not a symptom. The author lived for an extended time right in the midst of some of the worst areas of Milwaukee and got to know and actually got very close to some of the inhabitants in these dangerous, bottom of the heap neighborhoods. The glimpses of the horrendous details of the people's lives were very real and very horrifying.
An excellent book, well written, that takes some perseverance to get through at the same time it opens one's eyes to the horrendous details of a resident of the inner-city
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
With the "vividness of a novel," this nonfiction book explores the interconnectedness of the rental market and poverty. Desmond, currently a Harvard sociologist but at the time covered by this book a graduate student, lived among the poor in Milwaukee and came to know tenants and landlords alike. The book focuses on both the northern part of Milwaukee, the black ghetto and on the tenants, owner and manager of a deteriorating trailer park primarily occupied by poor white people.

The book opens with Arleen's 13 year old son Jori throwing a snowball at a passing car. The enraged driver chases Jori to his house and breaks down the door. This leads to an eviction for Arleen, Jori, and 5 year old Jafaris, who has asthma. The sheriff shows up, and Arleen has a choice: have her things placed at the curb, or pay $350 plus a monthly fee to redeem her stored goods. Her things are put on the curb.

We follow Arleen's months-long struggles to find a place to live. In Milwaukee the median rent for a 2 bedroom apartment was $600--the cheapest 10% rent for less than $480, and the most expensive 10% rent for above $750. Arleen ultimately has to pay $550 per month--88% of her monthly income. Along the way, we learn about the travails of other poor people in north Milwaukee, including Lamar, whose legs were amputated, and his two sons, Trisha who is mentally ill and illiterate, Kamala who loses her infant in an apartment fire, and Doreen and her children and grandchildren squeezed into a tiny apartment and constantly behind on the rent. We also get to know Sherrena, the landlord for all these people and more.

The trailer park is one which leases the land, not the trailers. What usually happened was that there would be a filthy ramshackle trailer on the premises (left by a former tenant) which the landlord would offer "free" to a potential tenant who would only have to pay rent for the land. This meant that the landlord would have no maintenance expenses for the premises. Among the tenants we meet here are Heroin Susie, Pam, a crackhead with 4 children and one on the way, Scott, a former nurse who is now a heroin addict, and Larraine, a disabled woman whose family refuses or is unable to help her and who when evicted just moves in with another tenant in the trailer park.

Failure to pay the rent is not the only reason for eviction. Arleen lost an apartment when a housing inspector showed up and declared it unfit for human habitation (no water). Another time she was threatened with eviction because an ambulance was called when her son had a major asthma attack. Apparently in Milwaukee there is something called a "nuisance activity report" which the police give landlords if police or ambulances are called too often to a rental unit. The landlord is required to remedy "the nuisance", and usually the only acceptable remedy is eviction. This leads to some female tenants being reluctant to call the police in cases of domestic abuse.

I could go on and on. This reads like a novel, a very gritty and disturbing novel. It certainly opened my eyes and broke my heart.

Highly recommended.

4 stars
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Pages

448

ISBN

0553447459 / 9780553447453
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