Books: Eviction by Matthew Desmond

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Every year, renters are evicted from their homes by the millions. And landlords and corporate investors are profiting off of these evictions. One of the major findings of Matthew Desmond’s research in his bestselling book, “Evicted,” was that evictions are not just a condition, but a cause, of poverty. After evictions, families are often compelled to accept substandard housing, and dealing with the aftermath of an eviction can lead to job loss. Eviction and housing instability also have serious mental health consequences. Recently, there have even been cases of landlords threatening immigrant tenants with deportations if they refuse to leave, if they make complaints about housing conditions, or if they challenge rent increases.

Evictions and displacement are violent and disruptive. They cut tenants off from their communities, schools, doctors, services, places of worship and their homes. Policymakers at all levels need to address the renter affordability crisis. They should support policies that strengthen the social and economic vitality of our communities. These policy opportunities include:

  • Tenant protections like just cause eviction and rent control ordinances, as well as eviction prevention. New York City was the first to provide legal counsel to low-income tenants facing eviction, the vast majority of whom go to eviction court without a lawyer. Baltimore and Philadelphia are among a growing list of cities considering similar tenants’ right to counsel laws.
  • Full funding for HUD: There are multiple federal funding sources for direct housing assistance (including public housing, Housing Choice vouchers and Section 8), but only one in four eligible families actually receives any kind of assistance. In many cities, the waiting list is measured in decades or closed. Each year, federal expenditures for direct housing assistance is just a fraction of what is spent on homeowner tax benefits (most of which go to wealthy families). Still, President Donald Trump’s administration and HUD Secretary Ben Carson are attempting to drastically cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget.
  • Community ownership of land and housing through the creation of community land trusts, as well as ensuring that public land is used for the public good, and not just sold to the highest bidder.
  • Diverse affordable housing strategies: The production of affordable housing (via affordable housing linkage/impact fees or inclusionary zoning), as well as the preservation of single-room occupancies (SROs) and “naturally occurring affordable housing.”
  • Living wages: The other piece of the housing crisis puzzle is stagnating wages and the need to raise the floor on low-wage work. From 2000 to 2015, median renter household income declined in real terms in 88 of the 100 largest U.S. cities. Policymakers and employers should support minimum wage increases and living wage ordinances.

Reading Eviction opened my eyes to the same neighborhood in Milwaukee that I have lived in for 6 years, however painful and necessary. Give these additional resources a read or check out the book yourself!

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