Dear Fellow Reader,
I am sure that I have told you before that one of the best parts of belonging to a book club is that I read books that I would not normally read. There have been several that I am so glad that I read but I know I would not have ever picked them up.
This month is another example of a book I would not have read on my own. I had heard about Evicted because I live in Wisconsin and the book is centered on Milwaukee, but the book could be written about any city.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond is a nonfiction work about – as it states on the cover – “poverty and profit in the American city“. Desmond refers to himself as an ethnographer, which is when the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study. In the book, eight families are followed through their journey of trying to find a place to live. The book points out the factors that are against them in this search and what happens to families caught in poverty.
“…the presence of children in the household almost tripled the tenant’s odds of receiving an eviction judgment.”
It is hard to know where to start to talk about this book. It is a hard book to read. The book makes you want to help the people stuck in sub-standard housing and bad neighborhoods but at the same time, it is hard to know where to start. The system is broken but it seems that the things that have been done to fix it have caused other problems. For example, the Milwaukee Code of Ordinances (Section 80-10) allows for the police to charge a landlord if there are more than three nuisance activity calls within a 30-day period. The charges are itemized down to even $4 for a 911 call. If the activities continue, the landlord can be subject to a fine between $1,000 and $5,000 or thrown in jail. The landlord then must write back to the police and tell them what is going to be done to abate the problem. In the case in the book, writing back to say that they are going to work with the tenant is not an acceptable answer. The acceptable answer is to send a copy of the eviction notice to the police. One of the families in the book had called 911 for a medical emergency. They were then notified by the landlord that it better not happen again or they would be evicted. So while I can see that there could have been good intent for the ordinance, in many cases, it works against the tenant.
The eviction process seems to be arbitrary and retaliatory in many cases. If your plumbing doesn’t work and you call the housing people because your landlord doesn’t fix it then you can be evicted. It doesn’t matter if you have paid your rent. The tenants don’t seem to understand that if you are being evicted and you don’t go to court to fight it that you will have an eviction on your record. But going to court to fight your eviction takes time from work that most people at the poverty level can’t afford. Also, fighting your way through all the different programs is confusing and takes a lot of time. The book shows the progression that happens when a person is evicted and how it just spirals down and down the housing food chain.
“Some of the most important findings to come out the Milwaukee Area Renters Study have to do with eviction’s fallout. The data linked eviction to heightened residential instability, substandard housing, declines in neighborhood quality and even job loss.”
The book serves to open a dialog about the problem and what can be done to help the people caught in the eviction spiral. It is well written and informative. I urge you to read the section at the end “About this Project.” I felt this section was important and think it is a shame it is at the end of the book, where it could be skipped over. The book is well worth reading.
Thanks for reading!