I’m currently reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, and I’ve gotta say: it’s a heck of a lot more compelling than its title suggests. Desmond tells the story of various renters and landlords in Milwaukee, though it’s relatively apparent that these scenarios take place all over the country. In short- it’s heartbreaking. But there are a couple of things that I just can’t seem to shake, after all, these are true stories, and this book was published in 2016. This is happening today.
I uncovered my first unsettling realization in Chapter 15: A Nuisance. It tells the story of a woman living in an upstairs unit with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend is abusive. The woman downstairs hears the violence and struggles with what to do. She pities the girl, but also feels “repulsed by her weakness” (187). At some point, she decides to do something about it and runs upstairs and yells at them from outside the door, calls the landlord (to no avail), and finally calls the police three times until they show up and take the man away. So far, justice has been served. But in the harsh reality of the world, of course it cannot stay that way.
The following day, the police call the landlord to inform her that “the Milwaukee Police Department has responded to nuisance activity at your property…on at least three occasions within a thirty-day period,” that should they continue to be called to the location, the landlord would be charged, and finally, that she needed to respond with her plan to end the nuisance calls at her property (188). The only accepted plan was that, pending another call, the tenant would be evicted. Yes, you read that right. The woman in the upstairs apartment has two options: be abused or be homeless.
Later in the chapter, Desmond writes: “In the vast majority of cases (83%), landlords who received a nuisance citation for domestic violence responded by either evicting the tenants or by threatening to evict them for future police calls” (191). How can anyone, especially police departments, think this is okay? Women should be able to call the police if they’re in danger, without the fear of being homeless as a result. As a society, we should be working together to prevent domestic violence and to support the victims of such a painful crime. Not throwing them out in the streets. It blows my mind and dampens my hope for the world that anyone with a conscience could leave these women with such bleak options.
Desmond also breaks down just who this is affecting: “In white neighborhoods, only 1 in 41 properties that could have received a nuisance citation actually did receive one. In black neighborhoods, 1 in 16 eligible properties received a citation. A woman reporting domestic violence was far more likely to land her landlord a nuisance citation if she lived in the inner city” (191). Though I’d never let my students say this…this quote speaks for itself. Most educated human beings understand that racism is alive and well in this country, but for those who don’t: let this quote be a wake up call. We need to do more to protect the women in this country, but we can’t pick and choose those women. We can’t only care when it’s a woman from a “better” neighborhood. We can’t only care when it’s a woman who has white skin. All women need to be supported.
The next alarming realization occurred in Chapter 19: Little. A couple is looking for a place to live after their recent eviction. They have three kids and one on the way. They have many issues with finding a place to rent, but the most prominent one is their kids. Landlords turn away potential renters due to children for a variety of reasons: noise, destruction, Child Protective Services, etc. And look, I’m a teacher, I run a day camp, I get it: kids are not always easy. But does this mean they should be homeless? They’re the future! What can we expect for the world if we aren’t supporting the ones who can change it? If there’s an issue- then maybe that’s a different story. But to turn away a tenant just because they have a child…that cannot be morally sound. I do not want to live in a world where people would rather have a child on the street than a couple of issues to deal with at their property.
I haven’t finished this novel yet, but it’s already inspired me to want to do more. I don’t know what I can do, or what can be done, but this aching feeling isn’t going away anytime soon.