"Evicted" shows the dark side of the U.S.' affordable-housing failings

Evictions are among the worst setbacks that strike already vulnerable individuals and families. And yet they have become stunningly commonplace in many American neighborhoods.

For all their frequency, however, it has taken the recent work of Harvard University sociologist Matthew Desmond, and his new book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” to focus the nation’s attention on the eviction epidemic plaguing low-income communities.

Desmond, a 2015 winner of a MacArthur “genius” award, highlights how evictions, once a relative rarity in America,  have become a way of life for millions of low-income people as well as the landlords, moving companies, sheriffs’ departments  and others who play roles in the ever widening crisis.

As part of the research that went into his book, Desmond followed eight families in Milwaukee. “…Some black, some white; some with children, some without – swept up in the process of eviction,” Desmond says. “… Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street. It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children. Eviction reveals people’s vulnerability and desperation, as well as their ingenuity and guts.”

In a passage that likely will have deep resonance for CLPHA members who often make a similar point to policymakers and the news media, Desmond writes of the nation: “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty.

“Not everyone living in a distressed neighborhood is associated with gang members, parole officers, employers, social workers, or pastors. But nearly all of them have landlords,” he writes.

Early reviews on “Evicted” have been extremely favorable. The New York Times reviewer said of “Evicted that it was “exhaustively researched, vividly realized and, above all, (an) unignorable book — after “Evicted,” it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing.”

The reviewer makes the additional powerful point that it is precisely because policymakers have abdicated on their responsibility to provide adequate funding for subsidized affordable housing, whether public housing or vouchers, that the horrible situations Desmond so painstakingly describes exists.

Seen in that light, “Evicted” becomes an important document that can be used by CLPHA members and their allies in their advocacy for more adequate levels of government support for affordable housing. That would be a critical part of the fight against the eviction epidemic.