She would be given two options: truck or curb. “Truck” would mean that her things would be loaded into an eighteen-footer and later checked into bonded storage. She could get everything back after paying $350. Arleen didn’t have $350, so she would have opted for “curb,” which would mean watching the movers pile everything onto the sidewalk.
Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
There are times when I feel like I live a dual life. In one life, I read books on business: how to grow your business; how to grow the people in your business. How to succeed in business! I read these books, and prepare synopses to present at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and then within companies and organizations.
In my other life, I read books about people who are not in much of a position for such thoughts. They scrape by. They barely make it. They started behind, and they are even further behind, month after month, year after year. I read these books, and prepare synopses to present at the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare.
Right now, CitySquare is on the verge of opening their cottages for 50 homeless people. It is a big deal, but not even close to big enough. There are so many more who need a place to call home. Here’s a book that explains why so much more needs to be done.
Today, I am presenting my synopsis of Evicted for the Urban Engagement Book Club. Here are some of the numbers (from the book – the numbers are for Milwaukee, which mirrors the national average):
Millions of Americans are evicted every year because they can’t make rent. In Milwaukee, a city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords evict roughly 16,000 adults and children each year.
If you count all forms of involuntary displacement—formal and informal evictions, landlord foreclosures, building condemnations—you discover that between 2009 and 2011 more than 1 in 8 Milwaukee renters experienced a forced move.
The book presents great reminders of just what a “home” provides:
The home is the center of life. It is a refuge from the grind of work, the pressure of school, and the menace of the streets. We say that at home, we can “be ourselves.” Everywhere else, we are someone else. At home, we remove our masks.
The home is the wellspring of personhood. When we try to understand ourselves, we often begin by considering the kind of home in which we were raised.
The word for “home” encompasses not just shelter but warmth, safety, family—the womb. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for “home” was often used in place of “mother.” The Chinese word jiā can mean both family and home. “Shelter” comes from two Old English words: scield (shield) and truma (troop), together forming the image of a family gathering itself within a protective shell.
The home remains the primary basis of life. It is where meals are shared, quiet habits formed, dreams confessed, traditions created.
The book proposes that the United States take a good look at what other countries have done, like Great Britain:
Universal housing programs have been successfully implemented all over the developed world. Great Britain’s Housing Benefit is available to so many households that a journalist recently reporting on the program asked, “Perhaps it is easier to say who does not get it?
This benefit, transferred directly to landlords in most cases, ensures that paying rent does not plunge a family into poverty.
And here are my lessons and takeaways from this book:
#1 – The vast majority of the poor face eviction as part of their life. This adds to the downward spirals.
#2 – There is not, and cannot be, enough “charity” to fix this. It will take a massive effort by the government.
#3 – We can’t “build” our way out of this. We need some kind of universal voucher program. (The goal: for people to spend only 30% of their income on housing. A voucher for the rest).
#4 – This problem is only likely to get worse. We have a growing problem of a shortage of living-wage jobs for the lesser employed. And that shortage will continue to grow.
I would like to recommend that you read this book, and others dealing with the plight of the poor. These will remind you that while there are many who are aiming very high in business, there are others who may not be aiming quite as high because they are beginning from a much lower beginning point.
Read this gripping review of this book by Barbara Ehrenreich from the New York Times: Matthew Desmond’s ‘Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City’. (Ms. Ehrenreich is the author of the modern classic, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America).