For America’s poorest renters — particularly black women — evictions are disturbingly common, trapping them in a cycle of poverty with long-lasting repercussions for their employment, health, relationships and overall stability.
Harvard University sociologist Matthew Desmond captures a riveting and heartbreaking portrait of the growing problem in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. The book, published this month, comes out of his ethnographic field work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as well as his research on tenants and evictions.
In 2008 and 2009, Desmond lived first in a rundown trailer park in a predominately white area of the city, and then in a rooming house in a distressed black neighborhood on the north side. In Evicted, he follows eight of his neighbors from those years as they try and fail to find stable housing, as well as the landlords, property managers, eviction movers and judges who decide their fates.
Desmond couldn’t find much existing research to answer his overarching questions about evictions, so he conducted his own studies. His survey of 1,100 tenants in Milwaukee revealed that a quarter of the poorest renters had been forced to move out of their homes between 2009 and 2011.
“Eviction is fundamentally changing the face of poverty,” Desmond told The Huffington Post. “One way we can interpret eviction is like, ‘Oh, it’s a result of irresponsibility, it’s bad spending habits.’ But if … you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”
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