Several decades ago, getting evicted was a cause for the community to rally around you in protest. In 2016, it's an everyday occurrence. Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond's new book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, explores how and why eviction in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee became so common.
In an interview with Slate, Desmond explains that the dominant contributing factor to evictions is the inability of tenants to pay rent. That's because rent and utilities have increased astronomically in the past few decades, and wages for low-income families have not kept up. "Between 1995 and today, median rent increased by over 70 percent. In the 2000s the cost of fuel jumped by 53 percent," Desmond says.
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The eviction epidemic is also very racialized. Desmond found that 1 in 5 black women have reported eviction in Milwaukee, versus 1 in 15 white women. One African American woman profiled in the book is getting evicted for the first time, but isn't worried about it. "Everyone I know, except my white friends, has an eviction record," she comments.
Eviction also commonly leads to profound social effects. Children often have to switch schools and families lose most of their personal belongings, forced to leave them on the street when they vacate the property. Depression rates and suicide were found to be higher in evicted populations as well.
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When it comes to eviction cases, many people are inclined to blame the landlord for being greedy, but Desmond's book notes that the landlord is not always the bad guy. He says, "The book does not shy away from moments where landlords have massive discretion over families' lives or where landlords drive their properties into the ground. But it also documents when landlords work with families and let them slide sometimes."
There is no perfect solution to the country's housing crisis, but as one solution, Desmond proposes a sort of low-income housing program, essentially an expansion of the current Section 8 program. He believes that housing is a right and therefore an essential part of what it means to be an American -- poverty cannot be fixed in the U.S. without fixing housing.
To learn about the effects of poverty on the human body, check out this video.