Recommendation: Compulsory reading
Where to read: Under a clean blanket, curled on a couch you own, in secure housing
Read with: A nice pot of calming herbal tea
In brief: I am furious merely writing this – it’s brilliant writing and better scholarship
Evicted is genuinely absorbing, if heartbreaking, reading and a sickening insight into a racial and gendered dynamic which receives insufficient attention. I think most people are broadly aware that incarceration rates among African-American men are appallingly high (as they are for Indigenous Australians) however the ubiquity of eviction and housing instability for African-American women is left undiscussed. As Desmond notes, if incarceration is the shared experience of poor African-American men, eviction is the common denominator for women.
If you ever needed an indication of how completely and utterly fucked it is, some of the tenants in Evicted are paying about as much for an unsafe, mould-infested, unsanitary slum apartment in a collapsing city with surplus housing as I do in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Adding insult to injury, as Desmond highlights, the gap between rental rates in rich and poor areas is actually pretty small but a combination of legitimate concerns, avaricious landlords, lobbying, lack of regulation and what in practice amounts to segregationist policy forces the very poor to accept nauseatingly bad conditions they can barely afford. Mechanisms which should, in theory, protect renters are ineffective or turned against them – a threat to call the housing inspector on a landlord can be met with the threat to call child protection on a tenant.
And this is profitable – with a little capital, enough to buy a couple of foreclosures at the heart of the subprime mortgage crisis for instance, a strong stomach and an robust sense of self-interest, you can make a metric (or imperial) fuck tonne of money as a latter-day slum lord. Unfortunately, while it would be emotionally satisfying to rail against landlords for several more paragraphs, it would also be too easy; the system is rotten, not just woodwork of lead-contaminated houses and the consciences of people who own them.
Evicted should, in my comparatively uninformed opinion, be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to opine on housing policy or poverty and ought to be metaphorically thrown at the head of the “generally privileged and a bit of a dick about it”.
See also: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/books/review/matthew-desmonds-evicted-poverty-and-profit-in-the-american-city.html