Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City
Crown Publishers, NY
CAN $37.00 hardcover
What a knockout. The more we think about this book the more we have to admire it. Matthew Desmond took on his subject in a way that very few authors can: by going and living it bodily for an extended period of time.
Ethnography is a discipline within anthropology and sociology that involves direct observation of social interaction from within, or very close to, that interaction. Milwaukee’s slum apartments and a large, dumpy (yet lucrative) trailer park are the settings at hand. They are representative ones, unfortunately, in an America still longing for recovery.
Evicted reads often like a novel. Desmond’s presentation of a brace of poor people, and those who make a living off of them, with historical background and socioeconomic data is nearly seamless. Without this phenomenon Evicted would have been pretty tough going. There’s a lot of serious bullshit and misery in America these days.
Indeed, the constant churn of misfortune in this book is awful. Bouncing from one crap apartment in some bad neighbourhood to the next, the individuals Desmond lived beside are constantly stretched, fighting to stay ahead of total disaster. Eviction is something of a new force acting on the lives of America’s poor, falling particularly hard on top of African American lives. Desmond describes eviction as a handmaiden to mass incarceration. The worst part of it all is just how lucrative the poor are for landlords, property owners, moving-and-storage companies.
Eviction’s depressing panorama is contemporary America for a lot of people. Desmond tells us that nearly one third of Milwaukee’s evicted population are black females even though they are only nine percent of the general population (page 98). Stuff like this is crazy. It makes for quite depressing reading.
To be truthful, we nearly gave up a couple of times on all the rough apartments and dodgy building owners that are encountered here. What do you think having your personal effects piled on the curb feels like because you fell behind on the rent? Evicted is important, though. Much of its reality remains unstudied, undocumented and ignored by society at large. This is not good, Americans deserve better.
As optimistic Canadians we would have liked it if half of Evicted had been like the twenty-page epilogue: stronger on solutions and positive statements rather than the narrative of bad luck and systemic grief. We could urge the proactive adoption of specific policies to protect Canada’s post-industrial communities.
Desmond believes an expanded housing voucher program would liberate people like those he wrote about. If such a program were large enough and well-funded it would probably function almost like a universal basic income, helping to reinforce a socio-economic level that nobody need fall below.
Hard reading on an important topic for anyone interested in contemporary American life. Almost made easy by the author’s level of commitment and writing skills. Buy this book.
evictedbook.com for the book trailer, photos, links and other features
Suburban living is more expensive than you may think
image: Samuel Bietenholz via Flickr/CC
Ontario-based housing advocates have gifted us a little something to focus on amidst the neoliberal noise generated by the current election. The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario recently decided to look into Canadian attitudes to affordable housing. It seems over half of us would support a strong national affordable housing policy financed with as much as two billion dollars a year. That would be amazing.
Over half of Canadians would support a political party that makes affordable housing a priority, new poll finds
press release with links via marketwired.com
image: Kevan via Flickr/CC
They say trust is the most important single thing in any economy, more than precious metals, cash, land, technology …anything really. A trust also can be an actual financial mechanism and here we see a nice example from the US and Britain. Community land trusts offer a tool for keeping people in neighbourhoods they are attached to but cannot afford due to wild price increases. The idea is to keep balance in urban areas where working people would like to stay but cannot afford, or even find, appropriate homes especially when they are ready to have a family. CLTs work, it seems, by detaching property from price speculation by individuals. What a wildly fantastical notion! The idea that a house is a thing you own and represents your relationship to a place as if you cared about it for some reason other than the fantastic amount of dollars or pounds you think you might pocket down the road. Surely this kind of thing will grow and help us keep cities balanced places. We wish this would catch on in Canada! If this intrigues you read on…
A revolution in affordable housing Guardian
For reasons best left undescribed, an employer had us take a Hummer H2 to a gas station for them one time. Said beast swallowed nearly $100 worth of gas like we do a mouthful of Red Stripe lager. The creepy, techno-cave of an interior was acre-upon-acre of cheap grey GM plastic. Pure materialism. Imagine then our shock when we came across the idea of using Hummer bodies as the raw material for prefab housing units. …if life on the perimeter is to be salvaged at all this might just be the kind of creative thinking and resource recycling we’re going to need.
A Better Use For Hummers: Prefab Modular Housing | Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World
According to a recent report by Rowan University and Fair Share Housing Center suburban rental affordability in New Jersey was better in 1970 than today. That’s so long ago it might as well be 1870!
Report blames zoning laws for lack of affordable housing in New Jersey