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Why the Evicted Book is an Incredibly Important Book You Must Read

The Evicted book by Matthew Desmond may be the most important nonfiction book written in years. And it’s the book I didn’t want to read.

After all, there’s no shortage of sources documenting how bad things are for many people. Image of a quote from the Evicted book reading, "Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart."I didn’t want to read a book about how housing costs have made it nearly impossible for poor people to live.

But then my job pushed me into a corner.

Since it was first published, one of my employer’s executives talked about “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” to anyone who would listen. Never was in a meeting or on a call with this executive when he didn’t mention the book.

Then this executive organized a conference for several hundred housing industry leaders. Desmond was the keynote speaker. As a member of our company’s communications team, I would cover the conference and Desmond’s talk.

The sands of my procrastination hourglass ran out. I had to read the Evicted book. Thank God I did.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond may be the most important book published in years. It’s no wonder Desmond has a Pulitzer for his work on the book. This is a terrific piece of journalism.

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About the Evicted Book

Intensely researched and exquisitely put together, the Evicted book throws light onto the impact of affordable housing in America.Image of a quote from the Evicted book reading, "Today, over 1 in 5 of all renting families in the country spends half of its income on housing."

The book focuses on the impact of foreclosures in Milwaukee in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. But Desmond provides information supporting his contention that the plight of Milwaukee’s poor is no different than it is in other American cities.

Desmond was a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison while researching for what would become Evicted. Not satisfied with academic research, he lived as a tenant in Milwaukee’s low-income neighborhoods.

It’s this investigative journalism that allows Desmond to bring America’s housing affordability crisis to life.

We meet people with names like Arleen, Scott, and Lamar. These are people with families and stories. These are people barely surviving.

Many of the people in the Evicted book have made mistakes. Their mistakes, though, are not too dissimilar from yours or mine. But for family, friends, money, race, education, or any other number of factors, you and I could be one of the people in Evicted.

Because that’s what I found most surprising in Evicted. I realized how close I’d been to becoming someone who could have been in Evicted.

It took me eight years to graduate college. I filled those eight years between high school and earning my degree with repeated poor personal decisions. I did everything I could to ruin my life financially.

But I had a buffer protecting me from myself: My parents. Mom and dad had just enough money to keep me from falling into financial obscurity.

I never quite appreciated this part of my past until reading the Evicted book. In many ways, the only difference between the people in Evicted and myself are my parents.Image of a quote from the Evicted book reading, "We need a robust sociology of housing that reaches beyond a narrow focus on policy and public housing."

Highlights from the Evicted Book

The Evicted book contains jaw-dropping stats and numbers. Below are just a few examples of the incredible information you’ll find in “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City”.

  • “Today, over 1 in 5 of all renting families in the country spends half of its income on housing.”
  • “Since 2000, the cost of fuels and utilities had risen by more than 50 percent, thanks to increasing global demand and the expiration of price caps. In a typical year, almost 1 in 5 poor renting families nationwide missed payments and received a disconnection notice from their utility company.”
  • “In the vast majority of cases (83 percent), 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.”
  • “Since 1997, welfare stipends in Milwaukee and almost everywhere else have not budged, even as housing costs have soared.”
  • “Between 2007 and 2010, the average white family experienced an 11 percent reduction in wealth, but the average black family lost 31 percent of its wealth. The average Hispanic family lost 44 percent.”
  • “In many housing courts around the country, 90 percent of landlords are represented by attorneys, and 90 percent of tenants are not.”
  • “In 2008…federal expenditures for direct housing assistance totaled less than $40.2 billion, but homeowner tax benefits exceeded $171 billion. That number, $171 billion, was equivalent to the 2008 budgets for the Department of Education, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture combined.”

Image of a quote from the Evicted book, sized for Twitter, reading, "Today, over 1 in 5 of all renting families in the country spends half of its income on housing."

Evicted Book Cover Evicted
Matthew Desmond

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FOR NONFICTION - FINALIST FOR THE PEN/JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH AWARD FOR NONFICTION - NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR by The New York Times Book Review - The Boston Globe - The Washington Post - NPR - Entertainment Weekly - The New Yorker - Bloomberg - Esquire - Buzzfeed - Fortune - San Francisco Chronicle - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Politico - The Week - Bookpage - Kirkus Reviews - Amazon - Barnes and Noble Review - Apple - Library Journal - Chicago Public Library - Publishers Weekly - Booklist - Shelf Awareness From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond 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 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.