Review of Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Rating **** 1/2
Evicted is an unflinching look at poverty in America. The author follows several families as they deal with a multitude of problems from health and mental issues to the compounding problems associated with eviction.
The events described in this book take place in 2008 and 2009, at the height of the last recession. I was among the many people who had lost their job during this period. Unemployment benefits and my wife’s income kept us afloat, but I became acutely aware of how close we were to losing our home. We lived across the street from an apartment complex. It became a common occurrence to see people’s entire belongings spread out in the grass near the apartment complex entrance. Kids toys, mattresses, lamps, beat up dressers, all of it sitting out in the rain and snow. I often wondered about these families. I offered to help some load their things into trucks. Many times, the evicted families were forced to cram their belongings haphazardly into the trunks of cars, making several trips to get everything and often leaving items behind.
As a pilot for a major airline, I spend a lot of time traveling from the airport to downtown hotels in various cities. Homelessness is everywhere. Whenever I go out for a walk in a major city like Los Angeles or Atlanta, I always carry dollar bills to hand out to the homeless whom I know will approach me.
Author Matthew Desmond spells out in great detail how evictions occur and the downward spiral they create for the evicted. In one instance, the person losing their home isn’t sure of the exact reason for their eviction since they had so many strikes against them: a drug conviction, SSI as their only income, a boyfriend with no job, poverty, and too many children.
As bad as things were in 2008 and 2009 in Milwaukee where these stories took place, they are much worse now, especially in high-cost cities on either coast where even people with decent paying jobs can’t find affordable housing. It is a problem likely to explode in much the same manner as the last housing crisis if steps aren’t taken to address the problem.
Previous solutions such as high-rise subsidized housing proved not to work. The next solution of building smaller duplexes spread throughout the city had a new set of problems such as opposition from neighbors and transportation difficulties.
The solution offered by the author, the expansion of housing vouchers and a streamlining of the regulations governing landlords and the rent they can charge, is perhaps the ideal solution. In this system, a renter does not pay more than 30% of their income for housing. The voucher pays the difference in the rent. The renter can rent on the open market.
As good as the book was, it suffered from a lack of photos (eBook version). I read and listened to the book using Whispersync.