Sunday, June 04, 2017

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

In Evicted, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, has created a story that is moving and maddening. It provides first-hand insight into how our broken housing, public assistance, and mental health systems are largely irreparable in their current states. It is about how we are detached from our communities, our loved ones, and how our public institutions fail so many.

Having never given much thought to the topic, I assumed eviction was a finite experience in that when you were in arrears to your landlord, you received an eviction notice, moved out (or your possessions were seized in more extreme cases), and then you went and found another place to live. Done.

Evicted, taught me the act of eviction is, in these times, an ongoing event with sprawling consequences and octopus arms that keep hold of you in tattered housing and justice systems. The act itself often leads those affected to shelters and unsafe housing, to court appearances, joblessness, and an eviction record that trails them for years, making it harder to rent the next time. It also leads to sickness, depression, and exacerbates existing mental health issues.

As described in the book, it appears all too many of those affected have the ability to manage their lives in a way that would allow them to break the cycle. When more than half of a meager paycheck or government assistance check goes to rent, leaving little for other essentials, it's easy to see how quickly already questionable situations deteriorate into homelessness. Throw in mental illness, little education or real-world skills like knowing how to balance a checkbook, along with bad choices and the ensuing undoing of a segment of an already marginalized society is complete.

To his vast credit, the author allows us to see the situation for its many sides. You can feel terribly for Arleen and her boys almost as often as you slap your forehead as a result of her bad judgement. You may applaud landlord Sherrena when she shows renters small kindnesses like buying them a bag of groceries but disgust sets in quickly when Desmond describes how despicably mercenary she can be. While she can still locate her own humanity, as she says "the 'hood is good. There's a lot of money in there." Reportedly, she's worth more than two million dollars

This is the story of an America that exists today. Safe and affordable public housing is going the way of the dodo, especially for those living at or below the poverty line. Desmond offers several solutions including housing vouchers that would be helpful but since government and much of the public confuses helping the poor and working poor with entitling them, I have little hope the cycle of eviction and poverty will end anytime soon, especially under the regime of Il Douche'.

The book has won many awards including the National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction and the Pulitzer in literature. This may be among the most important book to read these days.