I came across Evicted by Matthew Desmond (Penguin Random House, 2017) as part of my research for a novel I'm working on. It is riveting, gut-wrenching, and illuminating. Here's my review.
In a book that is both heartbreaking and intellectually rigorous, the author follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to maintain housing for themselves and their families despite extremely limited funds, sometimes inhabitable housing, and landlords ready to evict for petty or sometimes no reason, or just to get a different tenant. Every challenge facing a tenant is explored in greater detail in notes with statistics and documented research.
The author is fair to the landlords as well by following at least two landlords and recording their words, views, challenges and reasoning for their actions. The author listens and records, and attends housing court where he listens to other landlords.
It is impossible to summarize the contents of this book, but consider some of the incidents. A recovering addict must choose between medication and rent; he chooses rent and becomes homeless. A disabled man paints another apartment for the landlord and is credited with a pittance, insulted with complaints, and remains behind in his rent, facing eviction. Without a telephone or car, tenants must still find another place to live in a matter of days. Attending a court hearing can mean missing work and then losing a job. Eviction with or without a court order can mean losing not only an apartment but also all their possessions unless they have a place to go. Putting things in storage may keep them safe for only a month before charges pile up and soon everything a tenant once owned is gone.
If a tenant does attend a court hearing, he or she faces a landlord with a knowledgeable lawyer, and a judge who may have little understanding of the dire situation facing thousands of poorly housed families.
This book is an indictment of America's love affair with property rights and denial of the basic right of decent housing.
Unlike many other books on poverty in America, the author offers a deeper understanding and solutions. Ending poverty for 90 percent of the population is possible. Housing vouchers for everyone who needs one should be available, and free to use anywhere in the country, in any neighborhood. No one should be denied access to decent housing. If all vouchers were movable, poor families wouldn't be isolated in the worst areas of cities, the prey for avaricious landlords.
This book should be required reading for everyone concerned about poverty and basic decency in this country.