Review: Evicted by Matthew Desmond



From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced  into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.

Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

This is one of the most difficult books I have ever read. Not due to the writing—which was compelling and eloquent—but because of the subject itself. The eight families we meet through this book are all living in poverty, and all have the constant threat of eviction hanging over their heads because it takes nearly all of what little money they do have to pay the rent for the substandard apartments, mobile homes, and houses they live in. Many of their homes are in terrible states of disrepair and neglect, and the landlords have no incentive to actually make those much-needed repairs. The repairs are done poorly, if at all, because they know there will always be someone desperate enough for a roof over their head to overlook the most reprehensible conditions. If the tenant refuses to pay the rent because repairs are needed, the landlord will simply evict them, safe in the knowledge that someone else will be along very shortly to rent it, despite the property’s lack of upkeep.

The stories of two landlords are told, as well. Desmond present their stories as he does that of the tenants; without judgment or censure.

I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy book to read, but it was engrossing, just the same. From the first few paragraphs, I cared deeply about Arleen, and the same was true as each new family/person was introduced. Some of the things I learned about them were stereotypical, but that didn’t change the compassion I felt for them.

Being given a glimpse into their world has made me more aware of what a terrible problem poverty is, and how it causes millions of evictions every year in America. History teaches us that the most vulnerable in any society are taken advantage of and discriminated against in the worst ways. But it also teaches us that things can change, if enough people want it badly enough.

How long will it be before America wants it badly enough that this egregious wrong is finally made right? How long will it be before we start acting like the greatest nation in the world that we claim to be, and do something about it? Who will fight for the poorest of the poor, who have no voice, and allow their silent cries to finally be heard? I was left with many questions such as these after reading this book.

Being informed about societal issues is important. Evicted is an excellent source of information on a subject that desperately needed to be spoken about. I’m glad I read it, and learned from it.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in current social issues.

Author: Matthew Desmond

Title: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Genre: Nonfiction

Published: March 1, 2016 by Crown Publishing

Rating: ★★★★★ – BOOK WORTH READING




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