By Matthew Desmond
Although Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond introduces us to a number of families living on the edge of poverty in Milwaukee, the stories he tells us can be true of any city. Whether we are reading about Arleen, the single mother, Scott, the caring nurse with a drug addiction, Lamar who looks after the neighbourhood kids or Vanetta, a young woman with an upcoming first offence trial, they are all connected by their housing situation.
One of their connections is a common landlord, either Sherrena, a
former teacher turned real estate investor or Tobin, owner of a Milwaukee trailer park with a questionable reputation.
Each of these families lives in one of the buildings or trailers owned by Sherrena or Tobin, and each struggles to pay the rent on their meager income. For example, 88 percent of Arleen’s income goes towards rent, leaving little left over for anything else like food, clothing, transportation, heat, or medication for her son’s asthma. Each of the families we meet is in a similar situation which leaves little wiggle room for anything.
These individuals live in fear of eviction. A person with an eviction on their rental record can find it difficult to impossible to find other housing of any kind. Despite being evicted for failure to pay rent, any complaint to the housing board, too many calls to 9-1-1, too many people in a unit, can all lead to an eviction. Each of these reasons serves to perpetuate the unsafe living conditions of the tenancies. Eviction is so common that the landlords plan their vacations to ensure they are back in town by the first of the month, as rent collection is a face to face affair, as most tenants don’t have bank accounts and eviction notices are handed out in person.
Reading these non-fiction accounts, we can see how a lack of stable, safe housing overshadows the lives of these families, making it near to impossible to find a job, attend school, or care for one’s children. This Pulitzer Prize winner is not necessarily a happy story, but it is one that needs to be told.
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