Written by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City follows eight families living in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads, making clear the devastating consequences of our nation’s extreme inequality.
Trailer park landlord Tobin is described as “being flexible and understanding” (pg. 36), with numerous instances cited of him coming to some arrangement with a tenant in order to prevent/delay an eviction. However, as the book goes on to state, “Tobin’s negotiations with tenants were rarely committed to writing, and sometimes tenants remembered things differently from the way Tobin did” (pg. 38). In reality, is it likely that Tobin was able to purposefully ‘misremember’ payment details with impunity, especially since we later learn that the demand for the cheapest housing far exceeds the supply?
Given that “a mere $270 separated some of the cheapest units in [Milwaukee] from some of the most expensive” (pg. 74), it seems difficult to make the argument that the free market alone is capable of fulfilling demand for low-income housing. Why hasn’t the provision of subsidized apartments been expanded to better meet high demand? What would be the implications of a more robust public housing scheme?
Desmond notes that “the total number of black women in eviction court exceeded that of all other groups combined” (pg. 97-98). The experiences of tenants such as Arleen, Doreen, and Patrice speak to the fact that many of these black women facing eviction are also single mothers, tasked with supporting children in addition to themselves. How do we better address the variety of factors that together culminate in black women being at higher risk of eviction than any other group? How can we better support single mothers who lack a stable residence?
According to Desmond, “Landlords and building managers generally hated it when tenants avoided them,” with women being more likely than men to “duck and dodge” their landlords when they were behind on rent (pg. 128-129). Desmond also mentions that while men would frequently work odd jobs to help pay off their balance, women often could not spare the time, or simply did not view “working off the rent” as an option available to them. Sometimes, women found themselves trading sex for rent. Clearly, at the very least, the male-dominated nature of property management puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating rent payment, and at its worst, lends itself to the outright exploitation of female tenants. Aside from conceivably allowing for an increase in the availability of subsidized apartments, would an expansion of public housing also grant female tenants greater protection from exploitation, since their interactions with their landlords would be governed by a standard, formalized protocol?
Image Source: Joshua Lott for The New York Times