Review: Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American CityEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poverty And Profit In The American City
By Mathew Desmond

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

“Evicted follows eight families—some black, some white; some with children, some without—swept up in the process of eviction. The evictions take place throughout the city, (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) embroiling not only the landlords and tenants but also kin and friends, lovers and ex-lovers, judges and lawyers, dope suppliers and church elders. Eviction’s fallout is severe. Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street. It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children. Eviction reveals people’s vulnerability and desperation, as well as their ingenuity and guts.”
A Pulitzer Prize winning, incredibly researched, foot-noted-to-death, documentary on an issue we could have solved years ago. But sadly, we have chosen to imagine it away, to tell ourselves that ‘those people’ are simply lazy and unmotivated and given any kind of help (handouts) would only add to their already easy life of living off the system. Right?
You couldn’t be more wrong.
This book is filled with well-documented facts and figures which help illustrate this major American quagmire of inner-city poverty which is directly related to eviction. Right now, at this very moment, in Milwaukee, a city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords evict 16,000 adults and children each year. Which comes to 16 families creeping through the court system a DAY! Read this next quote, then read it again.
“If incarceration has come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction is shaping the lives of women. Poor black men are locked up. Poor black women are locked out.”
Of course, you wonder, how can this be? How can so many Americans end up evicted from their home? The equation is unfortunately simple, when you look deeper.
“Families have watched their incomes stagnate, or even fall, while their housing costs have soared. Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on. Millions of Americans are evicted every year because they can’t make the rent.”
To shed some light on author Desmond’s method of collecting all this data (and there is a ton) is to learn the meaning of ethnography. To him, it’s what you do when you try to understand people by allowing their lives to mold your own as fully and genuinely as possible. He did this by building rapport with the people he wanted to know better and followed them over a long stretch of time, observing and experiencing what they did, working and playing alongside them, while at the same time recording as much action and interaction as he could until he began to move like they did, talk like they talked, think like they think and feel something like they did. He did that, and so much more.
Desmond does offer compelling, tenable and sensible solutions to once and for all bringing this seemingly unsurmountable issue to a place of hope. But in a stark closing sentence the truth is what we need to embrace before change can unfold;
“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.”

• It’s up to us.
• Why isn’t this book taught in public school?
• After all, home is the center of life.

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