Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond


So I notice a lot of book tubers this summer
are going through a move. And it’s a pretty stressful life event. I mean it’s not quite
death in the family, loss of a job or divorce – but it is one of those top stressors and this
is a completely planned event. Now imagine one day coming home from work and finding movers
as well as police officers, with one hand resting on their revolver and the other hand
holding an eviction notice. You’re given a choice by the movers, you can either move
your stuff out onto the curb or have it moved into storage. Now add to that fact that perhaps
all the money you have left in the world is the change you have in your pocket and with
it comes the realization that you have to make a choice. You can either choose to house
your stuff or house your family – just not both. Unfortunately this is a fairly common
occurrence. In Milwaukee alone involuntary displacement which includes formal and informal
evictions, landlord foreclosures, and building condemnations — between 2009 and 2011 effected
1 in 8 Milwaukee renters. Milwaukee isn’t unique. Numbers are consistent across cities
of similar sizes. This includes Kansas City, Chicago and Cleveland. Milwaukee just happened
to be where 36 year old Harvard Professor with a Ph.D in sociology had decided to embed
for well over a year in order to write Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Now
the author, Matthew Desmond is white. Educated white. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine
him with a jaunty sweater tied around his neck with a wine spritzer in his hand. Now
imagine him embedded in a trailer park and spending well over a year in an inner city
tenement. This is Niles Crane quietly observing Ricky, Bubbles and Julian at the trailer park.
Unfortunately the reality is far more grim. We’re introduced to Lamar. He’s a double amputee
whose feet swelled black with frostbite when he was high on crack and hiding out in an
abandoned building. After eating snow for seven days he jumped out of an upper story
window. When he woke up he was in a hospital and he found he had lost both his legs. He’s
clean now but he’s still trying to raise his two sons on $628 a month. After paying
rent he has less than $2 a day left to him. There’s Scott who was once a promising nurse
whose opiod addiction cost him his license and his job and is now trying to get back
on his feet in a run down, old trailer park. And there’s the women – like Arleen trying
to raise two kids. She spends over 70% of her income on rent. And she, along with the
rest of the people at the bottom of the market struggle because they, in fact, pay more for
utilities that those in middle or high income brackets because they can’t afford things
like proper insulation, they’re living in buildings with shoddy construction and obviously
working with less than energy efficient appliances. It’s a precarious monetary balancing act
that many renters are faced with. And a single incident can lead to a missed payment. But
a lot of landlords don’t even wait for missed payments to evict someone. Trouble that brings
the police can also lead to an eviction. Women who call the police when an abusive boyfriend
show up have to worry about the threat of losing their homes. Maybe it’s a kicked
in a door or a noise complaint. Best not to call the police or have them get involved
when the choice is your own safety or keeping a roof over your childrens heads. Matthew
Desmond notes that “incarceration had come to define the lives of men from black neighborhoods,
eviction was defining the lives of women. Black men were locked up. Black women were
locked out.” And children didn’t help. Children didn’t protect you from eviction
they actually exposed you to it. A frantic 911 call after an asthma attack can bring
about people who might notice the black mold in the washroom, or a leaky ceiling or a sagging
balcony and bring it to the city’s attention. It’s easier and cheaper to simply evict
those people whose only crime was drawing it to the attention of the authorities. And
they’ll have no problem filling up that unit after they’ve evicted that first group.
Landlords can rent units with property code violations that don’t even meet the bare
minimum liveability requirements as long as they are up front about the problems. And
many people and renters are just simply too desperate to care. Landlords are finding the
inner city to be very, very lucrative. As one landlord puts it in the book, “the hood
is good.” There’s an episode in the book where one of the buildings owned by a landlord
Matthew is shadowing catches on fire. The renter Kamala manages to escape with her children.
All of them except for a baby who dies in the fire. There’s supposed to be smoke alarms
in the bedroom but no one can recall hearing any and the landlord worries she’s at risk.
When the fire inspector calls the next day to tells her she’s off the hook, she has
one question: Does she have to return Kamala’s rent? The answer is no. And so she doesn’t.
It’s said that the poor are constantly given evidence of their own irrelevance. Once you’ve
been evicted getting that next home becomes that much more difficult. You could lose your
possessions in storage – in fact 70% of the time that’s exactly what happens. And finding
a new home can monopolize your time which means missed shifts which could lead to job
loss. Children are forced to go to a new school. Benefits can be cut when notices are sent
to the wrong address and of course depression is all too common. Alright, so this isn’t
exactly the most uplifting book out there. And I found the footnotes to be a bit of a
distraction. I recommend that you just sort of read it through and check the footnotes at
the end of every chapter to make it more of a seamless reading experience. In the book Desmond watches Lorraine throw an entire
months worth of food stamps away on a single meal that consists of lobster tails, crab
legs, shrimp and lemon meringue pie and it’s not the spending that makes her poor, it’s
poverty that sometimes causes her to spend money this way. When there’s no hope of
financial stability you look for pleasure where you can. There’s another episode where
Vanetta and Crystal are in a McDonalds homeless themselves when a disheveled boy walks in
and they manage to scrounge together enough change to buy him lunch. Their actions seem
anti-intuitive and I don’t have the answers or understand the thinking that goes behind
that so all I can do is read a little bit more and hopefully expand my understanding.
Anyway think of this as a bit of literary fibre in your reading diet. It’s Evicted
by Matthew Desmond. I think it was a great and powerful read. I’ve actually had a really
great two weeks of reading and I’m really excited to share some of the books that I’ve finished.
Hopefully you guys have had a great reading week as well and we’ll talk to you soon.
Bye.