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Monday, April 11, 2016

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

            What if you had to spend up to 70% of your income to pay the rent? Could you pay your electric bill? Buy groceries for the family? And where do you go when you are evicted for non-payment of rent? Sociologist Matthew Desmond has written Evicted, a report on the observational study he conducted in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on two neighborhoods, one in the inner city and the other in a trailer park. We meet a total of eight families on the edge of homelessness; each are there for different reasons. We also meet the two landlords who house them.
            Income for the eight families can come from government assistance or low-paying jobs, and is not enough to save for future needs. And if evicted from their homes, they are in danger of losing all of their belongings; landlords send them to storage units – if renters don’t keep up the payments for the units the belongings will be thrown out.
            Once they are evicted, each struggle to regain a home. Some stay with friends and relatives, or with near strangers, paying them a share of money for their keep. Others live in homeless shelters or on the street. Searching for a new living space isn’t easy; many are turned away because of a previous eviction history, or because they had been in prison, or because they have children.
            At the end of this book, Desmond traces the history of housing for the poor in the United States: from slums to housing projects to housing vouchers. He recommends universal housing vouchers, where tax money supplements 70% of rent cost and the renter pays 30%. Tighter rent control laws also would be needed. He also encourages the development of other solutions for this problem, recognizing that what works in one area might not work in another.

             Matthew Desmond, an associate professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, is also the author of the book On the Fireline, and co-author of two other books.

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