Yes, another housing book. This time, Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Not only did the book come recommended by one of my former law professors, but also, strangely, a former love interest. But I digress…
Desmond, a Harvard professor and winner of a MacArthur Genius grant, demonstrates the toll eviction takes on families by following several evicted Milwaukee residents. His subjects come from various backgrounds and demographic categories – both black and white, gay and straight, disabled and able-bodied. Their common features? Poverty and eviction.
Interestingly, and part of what makes the book so unique, is that Desmond is honest with his narrative. Clearly, Desmond has an agenda, as outlined in the book’s epilogue. While one may believe someone pushing a universal housing voucher program and expanded public legal aid programming would want the victims of eviction to sound sympathetic, Desmond exposes that one renter spent all of her food stamps on lobster tails and king crab, on which she gorged herself one night. Another renter left her children unattended, and the youngest died in a fire
Although I cannot say that I liked any of the people featured in Desmond’s book, I could relate to them. Desmond does a good job of showing that the featured renters are simply people, with flaws and gifts that could be shared if circumstances permitted. In the same vein, Desmond also shares stories of two landlords, neither horrible villains nor sacrificing heroes.
Indeed, it is these complex relationships between tenant and landlord that cause the book to stand out. Certainly, Desmond gives the reader well-researched statistics and history regarding eviction in American cities, both past and present, but these statistics can be gleaned easily from the many housing papers and books available.What readers did not previously have access to was a candid glimpse into how eviction comes to be, how it affects both landlords and tenants, and its effects on the greater community.
Because I did enjoy the book, I would be remiss if I did not point out my disappointment that, on multiple occasions, Desmond refers to people with disabilities as “invalids.” For all the care he takes in representing other minorities fairly, using a word like invalid is seriously bizarre. Perhaps the Milwaukee winter froze the thesaurus inside his head???