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I read Evicted a couple of weeks ago, based on tips from both my husband and a good friend. They had both heard about it on the radio and thought I might be interested in it. Since the stories take place in the very city we want to move to (and in areas we have explored ourselves), it seems very personal to me. Let me back up a bit and tell you what the book is about.
Matthew Desmond wanted to do some field research about eviction and the way that it affects the lives of poor people. He settled on the city of Milwaukee as a good middle-of-the-ground sample city. Matthew lived in the inner city for a good chunk of time and did field research, took notes, recorded audio, conducted interviews and surveys, shadowed people, and looked at the work of other researchers.
What the author found (and this shouldn’t be too surprising) is that when people were evicted from their rentals, many of the other areas of their lives suffered, as well. The process of eviction caused stress and depression; it caused people to miss work and children to miss school; it ate up people’s time while they were searching for new housing; it often forced people to accept sub-standard housing in dangerous neighborhoods; it ate up their money when they had to pay for their belongings to be stored, etc. I could go on and on, but you should just read the book to get a fuller picture of all of the issues involved.
Matthew also shadowed a landlord and shares her experiences in the book. This part was the most difficult for me to stomach. I was appalled at the way she viewed people as valuable only in terms of their ability to line her pockets. I was sickened that she would allow people (and children too!) to live in housing without working plumbing, broken appliances, broken windows, etc. It also majorly sucked that rent was so high for families who could not afford it and who were getting so little in return for their money. It makes me feel ill.
So, I learned about a need in the city that I hadn’t known about before. There is a great need for safe, decent, affordably-priced housing. In addition to this, there is a need for landlords who care about their tenants’ well-being. The cherry on top would be a situation where tenants were charged a percentage of their income for rent, not a figure that could be 70% of their monthly income! When families are charged such high rates, it’s very easy for them to get behind in payments and consequently, to be evicted.
Becoming a landlord who views her role as a ministry is a long-term goal that I would like to set for myself. I don’t know how to be a landlord, so that is something that I would have to research. I also don’t know how I could go about charging people rent that is based on 30% of their income, or how feasible that really is. Are there ways to subsidize their payment if the mortgage, taxes and insurance aren’t covered by it? I don’t know. I do know that I would have to bargain-hunt for houses and fix them up.
Back to the book…I really enjoyed reading this book and feel that it opened my eyes to many issues related to eviction and their connectedness. I would recommend the book to older teens and adults. Because the author quoted people verbatim, there is a lot of bad language. There are also a couple of disturbing scenes (as when Crystal gets in a fight). The way the book was written is quite captivating, so you should have no problem getting through it. It’s a combination of storytelling, interspersed with commentary and nuggets of factoids.
Have you read this book? What did you think? How did it make you feel? I’d love to hear from you!