Review Of Evicted: Poverty And Profit In The American City By Matthew Desmond
In January of 2008, thirteen-year-old Jori Beale was having a snowball fight with his cousin in the front yard of his family’s Milwaukee duplex. They were playing and messing around as boys their age do, unaware that their actions would have grave consequences. As a car turned around the street corner, one of the snowballs collided with it, thus angering the driver. He hopped out of the car and chased after the boys as they ran frantically into the apartment, thoroughly intimidating them. The man kicked down the front door which was being held by a cheap lock before leaving, but the damage done on Jori’s family was far from over.
Jori lives with his mother, Arleen, and his younger brother, Jafaris. When their landlord saw the broken-down door, she evicted the Beales, leaving Arleen to choose whether she wanted to pay hundreds of dollars to store their things or to leave everything on the curb. Arleen, whose monthly welfare check was barely enough money to put food on the table, had to find a new home for her family or take them to a homeless shelter. She was lucky enough to find an apartment, but it was located in one of Milwaulkee’s worst neighborhoods and ate up 88% of her welfare check. The cost of this apartment, however, was not what made Arleen’s situation so horrendous. She and her family were now trapped in the perpetual and destructive cycle of eviction. She would go on to be evicted again, have to stay with a total stranger, lose all of her stuff in storage because she couldn’t pay to take it out, and find her family in a homeless shelter as she looked once again for a new apartment, calling over 80 landlords. In the New York Times bestseller, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, sociologist Matthew Desmond shows this story of eviction is not unique to Arleen but one experienced by millions of families across America. Desmond eloquently explores the American housing crisis, following eight Milwaukee families, including the Beales, as they face the wrath of eviction. As he points out, these are the stories that don’t told quite often. Millions of families in America find themselves without a stable home, which Desmond points out to be “the primary basis of life”.
Without a place of refuge, the stability of one’s education, job, relationships, and children is threatened. While the American housing crisis has not been seen as a major or pressing issue in recent years, Desmond aims to change that, placing readers in front row seats as they witness the immense despair faced by these eight families. His powerful storytelling skills and seemless incorporation of statistics and change the way readers view housing and its role in American society. One idea that Desmond repeatedly emphasizes is the relationship between housing and poverty. He describes eviction as “a cause, not just a condition, of poverty”.
Bearing the brunt of this the most in American society are black women, the surplus of details in regards to each family’s story in the book can be attributed to the unique way Desmond profiles each family. Desmond spent much of the writing process living with the people he studied, giving him inside access into their lives. He lived in the same trailer park and apartment building as many of the individuals in the book and he became their neighbor, both literally and figuratively. Desmond learned details about these people only obtained when through an intimate relationship, furthering readers’ experiences in understanding eviction. What is most astonishing, however, is Desmond’s ability to fully remove himself from the story, letting it be completely authentic. He uses a third person point of view, never once mentioning himself and presenting details in an analytical, unemotional manner. This allows readers to formulate their own opinions and develop their own and sense of urgancy. Desmond doesn’t tell you what to feel, but rather gives readers a why.