C Letter Book Club: Matthew Desmond's "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City&quo
As someone who has been renting since before I was of legal drinking age the title of Matthew Desmond's “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” stopped me in my tracks. I have long felt uneasy about the relationship between property owners and tenants in low-income areas so I pounced on the book thinking it would confirm all of my suspicions.
I thought I would find clear-cut evidence the cards were intentionally stacked against hard working citizens who had managed to save enough to get a small space of their own and are continually forced to forfeit more than half of their household income to maintain that space by everyone involved. I thought I would finally have concrete proof that landlords were soulless callous creatures whose one mission in life was to make sure that I was never able to save the six months living expenses you’re supposed to (or become a Super VIP cardholder at Sephora). What I actually found was far more complicated.
The book, which takes place in Milwaukee but represents national patterns, explores the perspectives of renters, property managers, tenants, and others involved in the real estate landscape.
It contains heartbreaking stories of mothers being separated from children, disabled people being displaced without notice, families their backs on one another for a slim chance at survival, and the loss of dignity endured by those who are faced with the realities of racism, classism, and poverty every day.
But it also contains facts about how the face of landlords have changed and with the shifting of that face the process of communicating with tenants has changed as well. Desmond provides readers context by going into the history of how being a landlord went from boring side hustle to big business.
Desmond also reminds readers that for all of the attention and scrutiny given to public housing assistance there are plenty below the poverty line who qualify for assistance and never receive it. The lines are long. The resources are slim. The laws are outdated. There are cracks and people, not numbers, are falling through them.
Despite the heavy material the book has a compelling narrative. It’s easy to get lost in the stories of everyone the author observed and interacted with. The facts might be sobering but the prose is charms so that it feels like you’re engaging with stories and not statistics.
As “4:44” so eloquently pointed out “you can’t heal what you never reveal”. Because everyone in the book is afforded their own perspective the end game here isn’t about blame but identifying the myriad of problems that have led to the eviction epidemic. This well researched tale of how P&L statements have overtaken the concept of caring about people points out where we have lost our way and offers solutions on how we can pivot.
“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” is available here.
For more information on Desmond’s research check out JustShelter.org.