The American sociologist Matthew Desmond has explored the role of housing in the cycle of poverty. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. The personal wealth of a few is more important than the common good – as Mathew Desmond’s book “Evicted”. Poverty and profit in the city “. His interviews show that living space determines happiness and unhappiness in life.
Evicted book summary
The story starts with a snowball. The throws the 13-year-old Jori on a passing car and then runs into the house. The driver gets out, enters the apartment door angrily. The landlady sets Joris mother Arleen with her two guys on the street. It’s not the first time they’ve lost their apartment. And it will not be the last time.
This is the highly symbolic entrance scene of “Evicted”. The book by Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Princeton University, appeared in the US in 2016 and was highly praised by critics.
Desmond explains his motivation in the American radio NPR.
“Compared to other prosperous democracies, the depth and extent of poverty in America is unique. I wanted to understand that, and above all, I wanted to understand the role of housing. I thought I did that best by living with the people thrown out of their homes. ”
He did that for almost two years. Rented in a trailer park and later in a black ghetto in Milwaukee, a city in Wisconsin in the Midwestern United States. He accompanied eight families, black and white, young and old, workers and academics. Among them is Arleen, a single mother of two sons. And Lamar, whose feet froze when he was homeless and on crack for a while. Or Scott, a former nurse who lost his job because of his addiction to painkillers.
Forced evictions as everyday phenomenon
In Milwaukee every fourth inhabitant lives below the poverty line. One in eight is thrown out of his apartment.
“It’s not just in Milwaukee. It’s in San Francisco and New York. It’s in Indianapolis. ”
But that’s not only the case in Milwaukee, but also in San Francisco and New York and Indianapolis, says Desmond. His book tells a deeper American story.
“… it tells a deeper American story.”
Estimates suggest that millions of people in the US lose their homes every year as a result of forced evictions. Because there are too few social housing, more and more people at the bottom of society are forced to rent apartments on the open market. But these are rare, especially in the cities and since the recession of 2007, when many Americans lost their homes and became tenants.
Rising demand drives up prices. Desmond’s protagonists pay 70, 80, sometimes 90 percent of their meager income for homes that are often in bad shape and in violation of building regulations.
But the landlords are on the longer lever, writes Desmond:
“The law prohibited landlords from taking revenge on tenants who had called the Department of Neighborhood Services. But landlords always had the opportunity to put tenants on the street for arrears or other violations. ”
Arleen and her sons spend $ 628 a month on social security – after deducting the rent – two dollars a day to live. Since the rent arrears quickly becomes chronic, the way into the debt spiral inevitably. Anyone who has ever been given an eviction notice loses the right to eventually get a social housing.
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Gloomy spiral of descent
Desmond mixes in his book statistics with reportage, analysis with environmental study. He encounters his protagonists with empathy, but he does not exaggerate them. The author accompanies moving companies and sheriffs specializing in forced evictions. They are disturbing, raw, often violent scenes:
“There was a lot to see in this job: the guy with ten thousand audio tapes full of UFO recordings, who keeps saying” Is everything alright! Is everything alright! “Shouted; the woman with jars full of urine; the guy who lived in the basement while his pack of chihuahuas ruled the house above. Just a week ago, a man had asked Sheriff John to give him a few more minutes. Then he closed the door behind him and shot himself a bullet in the head. ”
Desmond is particularly keen to describe the impact of the dissolution of a home on children.
“I’ll never forget a forced eviction, where I accompanied the sheriffs. We went to a house where only children were. Only children. The mother had died a few months ago, and the children had just kept living in the house. It was winter, it was raining, and the movers cleared the children’s possessions to the street. ”
Evictions, according to the author, drive socially deprived families into a dark spiral of descent, setting in motion a toxic cycle of uprooting and poverty. The long-term forced eviction and housing search often leads to job losses. For children, the chance to zero sinks, breaking the vicious circle of poverty through education. Arleen’s son Jori, for example, changed schools five times in two school years.
Desmond’s conclusion: “I’m convinced that eviction is a cause, not just a condition of poverty.” Forced evictions were a cause, not just a state of poverty.
Desmond mentions possible solutions in the last chapter. For example, government housing programs could take over part of the rents paid by low-income people on the open market. But the concept is not new – and the author’s hope of breaking the cycle of deep-seated poverty seems a bit naive.
“Forbidden”: Matthew Desmond’s study disturbs, worries and frightens. As a field researcher, Desmond is very close to his protagonist; his view is without filters, documentary and sometimes radically subjective. In any case, the author has achieved his goal: to examine the nature of poverty in America – and the key role that housing plays in it.