Evicted by Matthew Desmond is an incredible work of investigative journalism that puts the reader in the heart of poverty stricken neighborhoods of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Told from the a third person omniscient perspective of the residents who are bound by the vicious cycle of low income housing, homelessness, government assistance, and poverty. This book will open your eyes to what people living below the poverty line endure and how the instability of a safe home can trigger a domino effect of misfortune in their lives. It is cliché to say, but this book should be required reading. Desmond created a truly one of a kind work that hones in on what it is like living day to day in dilapidated homes with the constant fear of eviction looming. To say this book is "eye opening" is an understatement.
There were an abundance of takeaways that I gleaned from Evicted, but below are some of the themes that stood out to me and impacted me the most:
1. A stable and safe home is the foundation for life and is essential.
Think about it. If you have a safe, comfortable, and stable home to go to at the end of the day that does not cost 90% of your monthly income, you will have money left over to buy healthy groceries for your family, your children will attend the same school without being uprooted mid year, you will have more discretionary income to spend on other needs and even "wants." A stable and safe home creates a foundation that a life can be built on. It keeps people out of homelessness, which reduces crime, reduces poverty, reduces government assistance, and creates a step for people to begin climbing out of the hole that poverty puts them in. To think that housing is not considered essential, when food, 12 years of public education, and other things are, is mind blowing. Everyone in the US deserves a safe place to lay their head at night. Just think about it.
2. The things in place that are supposed to help people get out of this cycle, only helps keep them in it. (Rehabilitation and support is essentially non existent.)
The checks and balances that are in place in the US when it comes to the housing market, creates an environment where tenants are stuck in a cycle. Rent low income housing, face eviction, move to a friend's couch or a shelter, repeat. The programs that are in place that should be helping rehabilitate and support them, only restrict them. Many programs do not assist people with a criminal record or past evictions, but to even be in the place of needed assistance, most people have had several evictions and potentially have criminal backgrounds. This perpetuates the cycle and does not allow them to ever get out of the hole they are in. For the people that see others living in poverty and baulk at why they don't just go get government assistance, chances are they tried and were denied. Think about it in the simplest terms: to get a job, you need to fill out an application and list your address, to have an address you need to have money to be able to pay rent. To be able to get government assistance, many programs require that you are working or actively job searching, but how can you work if you do not have an house address? It is a catch 22.
3. The housing cycle has created two extremes: those who are at the bottom of the food chain and are victims of the system and those at the top who profit off of their misfortune.
Not only does Desmond write about several individuals and families facing housing issues, but he also follows a Milwaukee landlord so that the reader can view all angles of the situation. It was shocking to read the landlord's perspective at time, but the truth is, the housing cycle is a dog eat dog world. If a tenant does not pay their landlord, then the landlord cannot pay the mortgage or the property tax, then the bank seizes the house and they lose everything. This creates a cycle where landlords that may have even been in the position of their tenant not that long ago, are focused on one thing and that is money. The landlord that Desmond follows is a conflicting part of the story. On one hand I understand where she is coming from, but on the other, it is impossible not to have empathy and compassion for her tenants and the dire situations they are in. My takeaway, the housing cycle is so incredible broken that it has created an environment where houses that should be condemned and are unfit to be lived in are rented at rates much higher than imaginable, the tenants cannot afford them, but they need a place to live (even if it doesn't last that long), and the tenants basically expect eviction, but live day to day until they get that notice and have to figure out their next steps. It is survival mode. And it is not right.
4. The nation needs to view poverty with empathy in order to acknowledge the problem and start making effective and lasting changes.
Empathy is key and Desmond's writing gives you an intimate look in the lives of the impoverished people he follows. Desmond details his writing process, which included living with some of the people he writes about in his book. This gave him an inside view on what they experienced everyday. It is impossible to read this book and not have a shred of empathy for the people he writes about. If all of us had an ounce of empathy and could put ourselves in their shoes, rather than casting judgement, we could actually acknowledge that their is a major problem.
5. Other countries use different tactics and the US could benefit from taking a look and implementing some of these plans.
In the epilogue, Desmond goes into detail about what other countries and nations do to help the housing situation. He details a voucher program that could immensely help the impoverished, but only if money is taken from areas, like tax benefits for the wealthy, and put towards a voucher program that allows low income families to only put 30% of their monthly income towards their rent, allowing them to have money left over for food, bills, clothing, even building a savings. Desmond's message is this, this issue can be fixed, it does not have to be this way. He provides a tactical plan out of the US low income housing cycle, but like anything, this needs political buy in. I hope one day, we will see some of these programs implemented and see lasting changes.
All I can say is read this book. If you are educating yourself on social injustices, inequity, and are passionate about learning and creating change, read this book. If after finishing Evicted and you are not open minded to those around you living in poverty and are not fired up to help make some change, I am not sure what else I can tell you. This is one of those life changing books and I cannot recommend it enough.