Book review: Title explores housing issue |

Book review: Title explores housing issue

Megan Merkens/For Steamboat Pilot & Today


by Matthew Desmond

“Every condition exists simply because someone profits by its existence.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Living in Routt County, where housing affordability and availability are such hot button issues, I can think of no other book that so eloquently exposes the desperate game of cat-and-mouse that many low-income residents in America are trapped in. Matthew Desmond, undoubtedly one of the best reporters of our time, spent years researching and spending time in a few of the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

He emerged with the stories of eight families living on the edge of ruin, painting a searing portrait of urban poverty and the cycle of eviction. His research reveals policies, procedures and biases that are designed to keep certain segments of the population poor, stressed and shut out.

One policy which utterly shocked me is the issue of “problem units” — say a single mom, desperate for housing, decides to move in with her significant other, who turns out to be abusive. If that housing unit places too many 911 calls, it will eventually be flagged as a nuisance. The landlord will be contacted and given a certain amount of time to resolve the issue; nine times out of 10, the solution is eviction.

Desmond’s research does take into consideration the perspective of the landlords, who argue that they’re simply trying to run a business, and collecting the rent on time is just how they choose to make money. In fact, one of the landlords Desmond profiled is good friends with several of her tenants  — unfortunately, in her words, “Love don’t pay the bills.”

Too often, the well-being of the tenant is sacrificed in the name of profit. Landlords may utterly neglect a unit until it’s nearly uninhabitable, but many tenants are desperate enough to take what they can get, sacrificing nearly all of their meager income for a home that may lack heat, consistent electricity or running water.

“Evicted” urges us to begin considering the plight of eviction and homelessness not as a symptom of poverty, but a direct cause of it. His research begs the question: is this epidemic a product of economics, or exploitation?

Matthew Desmond won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for his work on “Evicted.”

This book is available at Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path bookstore.

Megan Merkens is a library assistant at Bud Werner Memorial Library.

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