Because I’ve been reading about All The Cheerful Things apparently, I decided to pile on and read the Pulitzer-Prize winning Evicted about landlords and tenants in Milwaukee.
I’ve tried to remain fairly secretive about my origins, but I do think it important to note that I lived 17 years of my life in Wisconsin, 12 of those specifically in the Milwaukee suburbs. I did my PhD in Milwaukee, as well, though I commuted out-of-state for that, and Marquette, my school, was right at the center of three ethnic neighborhoods: the Latino neighborhoods, the white and affluent Third Ward, and the black-populated North Side. Therefore, a lot of the locations that Matthew Desmond mentions took on a familiar aspect, and made me connect to the material quickly.
Desmond focuses on eight different stories: tenants and their landlords throughout Milwaukee. He unpacks the reasons why low-rent housing is so profitable for landlords, why tenants get evicted, and why stable tenancy is so vital to moving forward in society. It’s a heartbreaking ethnography, not least because it examines and interrogates stereotypes of poor black and white families. There’s a line in there about a white couple who has been evicted from their trailer home, and the wife begs to live anywhere but the black-dominated neighborhoods. It helps explain the lack of stability and upward mobility if you’re poor and it also questions the lack of affordable housing in this country.
This is an issue that ticks me off where I live now (far suburb of a major city). Every time I see land being used for a new set of luxury condos (of which we have SO MANY), I seethe. We need affordable, safe housing for people like me and my husband, or those who are much poorer but have decent jobs and want a quick commute and access to great public schools. And guess what? They can’t get that, because they are forced to live in a bad house in an unsafe or deserted neighborhood. I live in the most affordable and most decently-kept apartment unit for several miles around, yet it takes over 30% of our rent, and the rent keeps going up. I’ve suspected that the landlord is trying to smoke out the immigrant tenants who live here, but the truth is, anyone who is wealthy is going to pay better money than what they’ll get here, and my landlord’s going to price out at some point, particularly with the lack of upkeep on the facility. Here’s my solution: KEEP THE PRICES AFFORDABLE. I personally have no problem living in a diverse building, and I welcome the stability of our neighborhood that allows our neighbors to settle and build a life here in this city. But it won’t happen if they can’t afford to live anywhere.
What I’m saying is, read this book. 4.5 stars.
Cross-posted to my blog.