Poverty and Profit in the American City

Book - 2016
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"[The author] takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the 20 dollars a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, "Love don’t pay the bills." She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America's vast inequality-- and to people's determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible"--Amazon.com.
Publisher: New York City : Crown Publishers, c2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780553447439
Branch Call Number: 339.46097 D465E 2016
Characteristics: x, 418 pages ; 25 cm
Alternative Title: Evicted


From Library Staff

Through the stories of eight families facing eviction, Desmond paints a devastating portrait of the perpetual disadvantages that burden the poorest among us.

A Harvard sociologist examines eviction as a cause of poverty in America, revealing how millions of people are forced from their homes in a cycle reinforced by the legal system.

From the critics

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Feb 20, 2018

Desmond certainly earned his Pulitzer prize for this book on a topic he found totally ignored on housing issues in the US. Eviction, he found, defines the relationship between the landlord and the tenant, especially in those cases where the landlord is rich and the tenant is poor. He used an ethnographic case study approach to eviction in Milwaukee. His notes are often technical, and show how hard he worked to earn his dissertation. Even they are often fascinating, however, and the narrative of eight families is a page turner. I knew eviction existed but had no idea what it meant, either for landlord, or, to be more honest, for those evicted. Nor had I any idea how cruel the system is, and how it works to keep poverty entrenched, benefitting the 1%. I remember the prior president taking a similarly important book, "The Great Migration," about how after WW I, blacks fled the South for jobs in the North and West, on his first vacation in office. It's hard to imagine anybody in the current administration even knowing "Eviction" exists. Many of them, after all, are in real estate, and benefit greatly from their investments in real estate. Desmond manages to keep his tone calm until his personal afterward. He also offers some hope--two of the families were able to move away and turn their lives completely around. He also offers some specific solutions. A stunning book every American could benefit from reading.

Feb 08, 2018

This book was extremely eye opening. Stories wrapped around research. The author put a lot of time into this book and it showed. A great way to present these facts and concerns about housing. I would highly recommend this book.

sputnik55 Feb 05, 2018

Given the recent discussions surrounding housing and housing supply here in Whistler, Matthew Desmond, using Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a case study, provides a brilliant, heartbreaking and well-researched portrayal of the impacts of eviction on the urban poor in America. The case study follows 8 families and their experiences within a system that exacerbates health, mental health and addiction issues; prevents families from being able to maintain steady housing, employment and the ability to move on from poverty. Evicted raises important questions, provides potential solutions and is a MUST READ and I would recommend it to anyone.

vm510 Jan 11, 2018

This is a new standard for nonfiction books about American inequality and housing issues. Embedding himself with residents and families in Milwaukee, Matthew Desmond studied evictions and its repercussions on a family's employment, schooling, savings, health, and mental well-being. Evictions used to be rare, but in many cities today they are an ordinary occurrence. By relating the history of eviction and housing in America and combining heartbreaking stories he collected from families, readers witness the cycle of instability, the desperation, and the survive-one-day-at-a-time mentality many vulnerable populations experience. Also, at first it may be difficult to follow so many people's lives - we follow eight families - but keep with it, their stories start to flow into each other and I read the last 120 pages in one sitting.

Nov 10, 2017

Sociologist Desmond’s ethnography looking at low-income renters often suffering eviction is a must read. More interesting than some as Milwaukee, closer to home, is the city where his work was done.

Cynthia_N Oct 26, 2017

This turned out to be such a moving and eye opening book! The author uses real stories and this keeps the book from being just a collection of statistics. He makes it clear how someone can get stuck in a cycle of evictions and poverty. In the last section, he shares some of his process which included living in a trailer park (with no hot water for months because landlords never got around to fixing it). He does offer some solution ideas which I don't think would really solve the problem but they are a starting point. Highly recommended!

CMLibrary_sdeason Oct 04, 2017

Best nonfiction book this year. It compels you to appreciate the circumstances of other's lives.

Sep 20, 2017

Depressing, but yet triumph over hope as my take at the end. The book steers my view (reinforced after reading "The Glass Castle", "All Souls", "Hillbilly Elegy") on poverty/material-scarcity away from conservative-leaning.
Writing is intimate and lyrical, esp. for the bleak reality and tragic characters represented.
Final chapter "About the Project" provides details so essential on author's aspiration, unusual approach, and years' constant endeavor that I am deeply moved and willing to give the book the highest rating.

Statistical modelings of social study didn't reward my trying to comprehend the validity of data analysis, but I can bypass the academic hurdle to recommend to every adult in this country, wish more people have the (not only compassion) leisure (when not on a beach vacation) reading this book - a work deserve more-than-5-star.

AL_HOLLYR Aug 29, 2017

Well-written, deeply researched narrative of the housing crisis in one of America's poorest neighborhoods. A devastating but realistic account of homelessness and poverty in the U.S. today.

Aug 18, 2017

This book is about poverty and how eviction is a big impact on people's lives as they struggle to find affordable housing. Very eye-opening and profoundly written with valid data to support it. The author shows how many landlords are taking advantage of this situation by demand of market and making their tenants pay more than what a place is really worth because they know the tenants will pay for it. The tenants have no other choice. Many of those landlords don't put much effort into maintaining their property so many of those tenants suffer with things like broken windows, leaky water, hole in wall, lead paint, etc. Many of them fall behind on the rent and the landlords use that against them by refusing to comply with the needed repairs. The cycle continues after they are evicted and the next (desperate) tenants move in... There are also loopholes such as the landlords claiming their property costs more than the voucher the tenant has so the government/tax payers end up covering for remain of those costs. That costs us millions of dollars and it could be avoided if rules were set in place. It's a vicious cycle that many people are unaware of and the author suggests that changes be made so the poor people are not forced to live in terrible places and be taken advantage of.

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Apr 20, 2017

If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.

Apr 20, 2017

There are two freedoms at odds with each other: the freedom to profit from rents and the freedom to live in a safe and affordable home.


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Apr 20, 2017

Between 2007 and 2009, the American housing market was shaken by the subprime mortgage crisis, in which banks foreclosed on millions of homeowners who could not keep up with their rapidly inflating mortgage payments. But another group of people is deeply affected by the trauma of displacement on a more regular basis: the renting poor. Many of these families are spending between fifty and seventy percent of their monthly income on housing, and even a small crisis can easily cause them to fall behind on the rent, making them subject to eviction. Sociologist Matthew Desmond takes the reader into two of Milwaukee’s poorest neighbourhoods, one predominantly white, the other mostly black, and spends eighteen months examining what happens when landlords evict those who have fallen behind on the rent.


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