I got pretty far into this book before double-checking that it really WAS non-fiction. Because the actions of these slumlords were so horrific that I couldn’t believe the author actually witnessed them. But it’s all true — Desmond spent years gathering data about eviction, specifically following 8 families in Milwaukee as their lives (and addresses) changed.
“Every condition exists,” Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “simply because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.” Exploitation. Now, there’s a word that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate.”
So we get to know a few families or individuals, and we see how they’re treated by their landlords. Specifically, Sherrena Tarver (a slumlord who owns a bunch of apartments) and Tobin Charney, who runs a trailer park. Tarver evicts a single mom a few days before Christmas. Charney sells people trailers, rents them the land, and then takes the trailers back when they fall behind and he evicts them. Everything they do, their entire profession is based on taking advantage of people already in a tough spot.
“it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”
Yes, I understand that if people don’t pay their rents, then the landlords go bankrupt. But:
“The profits were staggering. In 1966, a Chicago landlord told a court that on a single property he had made $42,500 in rent but paid only $2,400 in maintenance. When accused of making excessive profits, the landlord simply replied, “That’s why I bought the building.”
And the tactics…it’ll make your skin crawl. Code violations, unsafe living conditions that result in fires or mold. The danger that these tenants live in daily — one of the families experiences a fire and not everyone makes it out — horrified me. It’s a scary story but it’s all true, and it’s tiny in scope compared to the whole country. But by making his focus narrow, Desmond makes it so much more real than a stack of statistics ever could.