“Living in extreme poverty in the United States means waging an almost gladiatorial battle for creature comforts that luckier people take for granted. And of all those comforts, perhaps the most important is a stable, dignified home. Yet as a culture, notes Mr. Desmond, we have somehow failed to commit ourselves to providing this most fundamental and obvious necessity.”
“Every year in this country,” he writes, “families are evicted from their homes not by the tens of thousands or even the hundreds of thousands, but by the millions.”
By living among the very poor in Milwaukee, Desmond sheds the light on the affordable housing crisis in America and the severe shortage of vouchers and affordable apartments.
“What makes ‘Evicted’ so eye-opening and original is its emphasis. Most examinations of the poorest poor look at those in public housing, not those who’ve been brutally cast into the private rental market. Yet this is precisely where most of the impoverished must live. Sixty-seven percent of poor renting families received no federal assistance for housing at all in 2013 — there simply weren’t enough vouchers or subsidized apartments to go around. The very people least capable of spending 70 to 80 percent of their incomes on rent are exactly the ones forced to do so.”
And often female heads of households are the victims.
“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.”
Mr. Desmond writes.
Those who are evicted often end up in homeless shelters and find it increasingly difficult to secure a rental to escape poverty and homelessness.
Eviction itself provides the dramatic punctuation in Desmond’s story. If a family’s income after rent is in the two-digit zone, there’s a powerful temptation to skip a month’s rent to buy groceries or pay a utility bill to keep the heat on. If you have complained about non-working drains or holes in the wall, the landlord has one less reason to cut you any slack. You may get a chance to protest in court, though 70 percent of the tenants summoned to court do not show up — because they couldn’t miss work or find child care or perhaps didn’t even receive the summons.
Writes Ms. Ehrenrich.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Evicted Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond tells the story of eight families on the edge in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee.