Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Desmond)

In Milwaukee, if the police are called three times to the same address in a given period of time, then the landlord can be cited. Annoyed, the landlord can then evict the tenant(s), generally poor women of color. So in order to maintain a stable address, these women sometimes choose not to call the police and instead choose to endure domestic violence in so they can keep their housing. Is Desmond the first to notice this vicious cycle? Or is he the first to see and publicize the problem with it? Who’s watching the big picture? As with so many of our current challenges, how do we simultaneously fix the system and help those who are ensnared in it break out?

Evicted is for the private housing business what The New Jim Crow is for mass incarceration and the school –> prison pipeline. We can no longer claim ignorance. We can no longer stand idly by. “If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources” (312).. We know too much. Desmond makes this connection as well (98):

If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.

How can we honestly wonder why we’ve lost any sense of community when we make it so hard for people, often poor women of color with children, to stay in one place?  Or we allow such awful housing that they often don’t want to stay in one place? And how hard is it to keep a job or do well in school (or different schools) if your address is constantly changing? Why do we wonder why these blocks instead become places where the police are so frequently summoned?

And, as with Michelle Alexander’s book, there can be no doubt that we are doing this on purpose because of racism and we are doing this for profit – we are seeking to make our profits off of those who have the least. We have to understand that poverty is a relationship (317), not by any means solely the responsibility of those who are poor.

Desmond has two suggestions, one is probably more palatable than the other. The short-term suggestion is to provide legal aid for those navigating the eviction process. Desmond points out how the presence of such assistance reduces the number of evictions (in favor of other mediated solutions). People have recently started saying that law school is too long. What if (and this is my idea) the final year was dedicated to service?

His other idea is more controversial – a Housing Choice Voucher Program. Perhaps because he’s noted some lessons from efforts to introduce vouchers into school choice, he offers some ideas about checks and balances. I don’t know all of the economic implications involved. But it’s time to start having the conversation. Past time.

I have a running and friendly debate with those who do community service work and focus on needs outside of the US. Why, I like to ask, don’t we seek to support those closest to home first instead of sending money or food or whatever else to another country? Why are there so many service programs that send people to Haiti? The answer I always get is that we have support programs here – a government that provides assistance and local organizations that do the same. Here’s the thing, though. They aren’t working.

I’m no ethnographer. Desmond explains his methodology and it seems sound to me.

http://scholar.harvard.edu/mdesmond/home

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/02/08/forced-out

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/247816/evicted-by-matthew-desmond/9780553447439/

 

 

 

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