By Matthew Desmond
Crown (432 pages, $28)
For nearly a decade, Matthew Desmond has studied the relationship between eviction and poverty in a single American city: Milwaukee. The MacArthur Foundation awarded him a “genius” grant last year for his research, including the Milwaukee Area Renters Study he designed and supervised, which yielded this sobering conclusion: “Among Milwaukee renters, over 1 in 5 black women report having been evicted in their adult life, compared to 1 in 12 Hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women.”
“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” (Crown) makes this research come alive through the stories of eight Milwaukee families, black and white, and two landlords involved with them. In 2008-09, Desmond spent more than a year alongside his subjects, living first in a battered south side trailer park and then in a predominantly African-American rooming house. He uses pseudonyms to protect his subjects’ privacy.
“Evicted” should provoke extensive public policy discussions. It is a magnificent, richly textured book with a Tolstoyan approach: telling it like it is but with underlying compassion and a respect for the humanity of each character, major or minor. Desmond presents the two landlords, whom he calls Sherrena and Tobin, as hard-nosed entrepreneurs pursuing profit, but he doesn’t demonize them, just as he refrains from airbrushing the tenants, who sometimes make their lives even more difficult through impulsive acts or poor choices. (TNS)