by Matthew Desmond



part 1 – rent


1 – the business of owning the city


as much as 6 bn worth of power was pirated across america every year.. only cars and credit cards got stolen more.. we energies disconnected roughly 50 000 households each yr for nonpayment…many tenants in the winter stayed current on rent at expense of heating bill tried in summer to climb back in the black w utility co by shorting their landlord.. so every yr in milaukee evictions spiked in the summer and early fall..


2 – making rent


1980s milwaukee policy experiment.. wisconsin works .. had to work for welfare checks.. even if contrived work – ie: sort toys.. only to be dumped and sorted again


3 – hot water


she had used 150 of her rent money to pay a defaulted utility bill w hope of having her gas turned by ck on.. she wanted to take a hot shower , scrub away the smell…. sooth ethe pain.. but 150 wasn’t enough. we energies accepted her money but didn’t turn on her gas. larraine felt stupid for paying..


4 – a beautiful collection


when city/state officials pressured landlords – by ordering them to hire an outside security firm or by having a building inspector scrutinize their property – landlords often passed the pressure on to their tenants.. there was also the matter of reestablishing control.

the most effective way to assert or reassert  ownership of land was to force people from it.. t


the high demand for the cheapest housing told landlords that for every family in a unit there were scores behind them ready to take their place. in such and environment, the incentive to lower the rent, forgive a late payment, or spruce up your property was extremely low..


5 – thirteenth street


for years politicians have know that families could not survive on welfare alone


housing authority waiting list frozen.. 3500 families who had applied for rent assistance four years earlier.. in larger cities like dc, the wait for public housing was counted in decades. .. a mother of a young child who put her name on the list might be a grandmother by the time her application was reviewed..

most poor people in america were like arleen: they did not live in public housing or apartments subsidized by vouchers. three in four families who qualifies for assistance received nothing..t

if arleen wanted public housing she would have to save a month’s worth of income to repay the housing authority for leaving her subsidized apt w/o giving notice; then wait two to three yrs until the list unfroze; then wait another two to five yrs until her application made it to the top of the pile; then pray that the person w the stale coffee and heavy stamp reviewing her file would somehow overlook the eviction record she’d collected while trying to make ends meet in the private housing market on a welfare check

memories of library cards..


those poor and disabled enough to receive ssi but not clean enough to be welcomed in to public hosing made up belinda’s client base.. belinda estimated that rent payments took between 60-70% of her typical client’s monthly income.


6 – rat hole


‘the public peace – the sidewalk and street peace – of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. it is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves’.. so wrote jane jacobs… jacobs believe that a prereq for this type of healthy /engaged community was the presence of people who simply were present, who looked after the neighborhood. she has been proved right: disadvantaged neighborhoods w higher levels of ‘collective efficacy’ the stuff of loosely linked neighbors who trust one another and share expectations about thow to make their community better – have lower crime rates..

a single eviction could destabilize multiple city blocks, not only the block from which a family was evicted but also the block to which it begrudgingly relocated.. in this way, displacement contributed directly to what jacobs called .. perpetual slums.. churning environments w high rates of turnover and even higher rates of resentment and disinvestment.. ‘the key link in a perpetual slum is that too many people move out of it too fast – and in the meantime dream of getting out..’



doreen.. withheld all her rent. if she was going to get evicted, she might as well save her money to put it toward the next move..it was a common strategy among cash-strapped renters. because the rent took almost all of their paycheck, families sometimes had to initiate a necessary eviction that allowed them to save enough money to move to another place. one landlord’s loss was another’s gain..

rent in some of the worst neighborhoods was not drastically cheaper than rent in much better areas.. ie: in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where at least 40% of families lived below the poverty line, median rent for a two bedroom apt was only 50 less than the citywide median..


this had long been the case. when tenements began appearing in nyc in the mid 1800s, rent in the worst slums was 30% higher than in uptown.. as late as 1960 rent in major cities was highest for blacks than for whites in similar accommodations..

the poor did not crowd into slums because of cheap housing. there were there – and this was especially true of the black poor – simply because they were allowed to be..t

tenants able to pay their rent in full each month could take advantage of legal protections designed to keep their housing safe and decent. not only could they summon a building inspector w/o fear of eviction, but they also had the right to withhold rent until certain repairs were made. but when tenants fell behind, these protections dissolved… it was not that low income renters didn’t know their rights. they just knew those rights would cost them..


when tenants relinquished protections by falling behind in rent or otherwise breaking their rental agreement, landlords could respond by neglecting repairs…

tenants could trade their dignity and children’s health for a roof over their head..

between 2009-2011 nearly half of all renters in milwaukee experienced a serious/lasting housing problem. more than 1 in 5 lived w a broken window; a busted appliance; or mice, cockroaches or rats for more than 3 days.. one third experienced clogged plumbing that lasted more than a day. and 1 in 10 spent at least a day w/o heat. african american households were the most likely to have these problems – as were those where children slept. yet the average rent was the same, whether an apt had housing problems or did not..

tenants who fell behind either had to accept unpleasant, degrading and sometimes dangerous housing conditions or be evicted. but from a business pov, the arrangement could be lucrative.

in sherrena’s portfolio her worst properties yielded her biggest returns..


7 – the sick


8 – christmas in room 400

last eviction court before christmas that year. sherren knew the courthouse would be packed. many parents chose to take their chances with their landlords rather than face their children empty handed on christmas morning..


roughly 70% of tenants summoned to milwaukee’s eviction court didn’t come. same in other major cities.. some tenants couldn’t miss work or couldn’t find child care or were confused by the whole process or couldn’t care less or would rather avoid the humiliations..


tenants in eviction court were generally poor, and almost all of the (92%) had missed rent payments. the majority spent at least half their household income on tent. 1/3 devoted at least 80% to it.. of the tenants who did come to court and were evicted, only 1 in 6 had another place lined up: shelters or the apts of friends/family.. a few resigned themselves to the streets. most simply did not know where they would go

as usual, the courtroom was full of black women. in a typical month, 3 in 4 people in milwaukee eviction court were black. of those, e in 4 were women. the total number of black women in eviction court exceeded that of all other groups combined.


in milwaukee’s poorest black neighborhoods, eviction had become commonplace.. esp for women. in those neighborhoods, 1 female renter in 17 was evicted thru the court system each yr, which was twice as often as men and 9 times as foten as women from the city’s poorest white areas..

women from black neighborhoods made up 9% of milwaukee’s population and 30% of its evicted tenants.. t

if incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women.. poor black men were locked up. poor black women were locked out..t


patrice knew that if she did come to court she not only would lose work hrs and frustrate her manager but also would have to defend herself against someone who was more educated, more familiar with the law, and more comfortable in court. other tenants had it worse, having to go toe to toe with their landlords’ lawyer

plus.. have to set foot in that grand old courthouse.. she tried to not go to parts of the city where she did )feel her existence questioned)


girl.. i got to get you up outta this house or get my money. genuine.. i mean.. cause i got bills. i got a bill to show you right now that’s gonna take your eyes outta your head.. a tax bill for property the city had condemned.. listed delinquent storm water and sewer charges, fees for the board-up and additional charges that totaled 11,45.67. arleen stared blankly at the bill. it was more than her annual income. … do you see what i have to go thru..it might not’ve been your fault about what happened, but.. i got issues..

sherrena learned to put ‘et al’ after a tenant’s name so that the eviction judgment covered everyone in the house.. even people she didn’t know about..

part 2 – out


9 – order some carryout


the first was emergency assistance for families at risk of impending homelessness. you could apply  for these funds once every year if you were a us citizen, in possession of an eviction notice, at or below 115% of the poverty leve, and could prove w divorce papers, a crime report, a pink slip or some other documentation that you had experienced a sudden loss of income. but to qualify you also had to have dependent children in our home…

the second program was the homelessness prevention program.. mainly federally funded.. but to qualify.. not only had to have experienced  a loss of income.. also had to demo that your current income could cover future rents. plus, you needed landlord buy-in… like emergency assistance, this service was reserved more for the unlucky – those who had been laid off or mugged – than the chronically rent burdened.. community advocates was able to offer this benefit to only 950 families each year. it took milwaukee less than 6 wks to evict that many families…


a formal eviction that involved sheriffs and movers could run around 600 .. landlords could add these costs to a judgement but often never go them back


10 – hypes for hire


11 – the hood is good


12 – disposable ties


13 – e-24


14 – high tolerance

all over the city, people who lieve in distressed neighborhoods were more likely to help their neighbors pay bills, buy groceries, fix their car, or lend a hand in other ways, compared to their peers in better-off areas. these exchanges helped people on the receiving end meet basic material needs; and they helped those on the delivering end feel more fully human

but for such vital exchanges to take place, residents had to make their needs know and acknowledge their failures..

when people began to view their neighborhood as brimming with deprivation and vice, full of ‘all sorts of shipwrecked humanity’ they lost confidence in its political capacity

milwaukee renters who perceive higher levels of neighborhood trauma – believing that their neighbors had experienced incarceration, abuse, addiction, and other harrowing events – were far less likely to believe that  people in their community could come together to improve their lives.. this lack of faith had less to do w their neighborhood’s actual poverty and crime rates that with the level of concentrated suffering they perceived around them.

a community that saw so clearly its own pain had a difficult time also sensing its potential..t


for the most part.. tenants had a high tolerance for inequality..t

they spent little time questioning the wide gulf separating their poverty from tobin’s wealth or asking why rent for a worn out aluminum wrapped trailer took such a large chunk of their income..their focus was on smaller more tangible problems..

who had time to protest inequality when you were trying to get the rotten spot in your floorboard patched before your daughter put her foot thru it again.. who cared what the landlord was making as long as he was willing to work with you until you got back on your feet.. there was always something worse than the trailer park, always room to drop lower..residents were reminded of this when teh whole park was threaten w eviction, and they felt it again when men frombieckmanagement began collecting rents..


scott had learned that addiction tightened its grip when you were hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.. and scott was all four..

hari addiction law


15 – a nuisance


in the vast majority of cases (83%), landlords who received a nuisance citation for domestic violence responded by either evicting th tenants or by threatening to evict them for future police calls. sometimes this mean evicting a couple, but most of the time landlords evicted women abused by men who did not live with them.


the year the police called sherrena, wisconsin saw more than one victim per week murdered by a current or former romantic partners or relative. after the numbers were released, milwaukee’s chief of police appeared on the local news and puzzled over the fact that many victims had never contacted the police for help. a nightly new reporter summed up the chief’s views: ‘he believes that if police were contacted more often, that victims would have th tools to prevent fatal situations from occurring in the future’ what the chief failed to realized or failed to reveal was that the dept’s own rules presented battered women w a devil’s bargain: keep quiet and face abuse or call the police and face eviction. .t


16 – ashes on snow

part 3 – after


17 – this is america


18 – lobster on food stamps


19 – little


families with children were turned away i as many as 7 in 10 housing searches..


20 – nobody wants the north side


most milwaukeeans believe their city was racially segregated because people preferred it that way. but the ghetto had always been more a product of social design than desire. it was never a by product of the modern city , a sad accident of industrialization and urbanization, something no one benefited from nor intended. the ghetto had always been a main feature of landed capital, a prime moneymaker for those who saw ripe opportunity in land scarcity housing dilapidation and racial segregation..


15th cent.. invention of iron cannonball, cities could no longer rely on moats .. to fend off attack.. cities had to grow vertically behind high walls..agrarian families driven from land to increasingly congested cities.. competition for space drove up land values/rents. urban landlords quickly realized that piles of money could be made by creating slums: ‘max profits came, to from providing first class accommodation for those who could well afford them.. but from crowded slum accommodations, for those who we pennies were scarce.. beginning in 16th cent slum housing reserved no only for outcasts, beggars, and thieves..but for a large segment of the population…

during this period of rapid urbanization, america imported this model.. colonial prospectors adopted the institutions and laws of england’s landed gentry, including the doctrine of absolute liability of rent, which held tenants unequivocally responsible for payments even in the event of fire or flood..rents continued to rise as living conditions deteriorated. soon, may families could not afford their housing. when this happened, landlords could summon the ‘privilege of distress’ which entitled them to seized and sell tenants’ property to recover lost profits, a practice that persisted well into the 20th cent

racial oppression enable land exploitation on a massive scale. during slavery, black slaves pulled profit from the dirt but had no claim of he land.. after the civil war, freed slaves saw in landownership the possibility of true liberation, but during reconstruction wealthy whites maintained a virtual monopoly on the soil


in 1930, the death for milwaukee’s blacks was nearly 60% higher than the citywide rate, due in large part to poor housing conditions..t

for first time in history of america, new deal policies made homeownership a real possibility for white families, but black families were denied these benefits when the fed govt deemed their neighborhoods too risky for insured mortgages and official loyal to jim crow blocked black vets from using gi mortgages..t

in 50s white real estate brokers developed an advanced technique of exploitation, one that targeted black families shut out of the private housing market. after buying houses on the cheap from nervous white homeowners in transitioning neighborhoods, private investors would sell these houses ‘on contract’ to black families for double/triple their assessed value..t

black buyers had to come up with sizeable down payments, often upwards of 25% of the property’s inflated value.. once them moved in.. had all the responsibilities of home ownership w/o any of their rights.. when missed payments, which many did after monthly installments were increased.. they could be evicted as their homes were foreclosed and down payments pocketed..

the profits were staggering..t

in 66 a chicago landlord told a court that on a single property he had made 42500 in rent but paid only 2400 in maintenance.


21 – bigheaded boy


substandard housing was blow to your psychological health: not only because things like dampness, mold, and overcrowding could bring about depression but also because of what living in awful conditions told you about yourself.

it was once said the poor are ‘constantly exposed to evidence of their own irrelevance ‘esp for poor african american families.. who live in neighborhood with rates of violence and concentrated poverty so extreme that even the worst white neighborhoods bear little resemblance – living in degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods sent a clear message about where the wider society thought they belonged..

people who were repulsed by their home, who felt they had no control over it, and yet had to give most of their income to it – they thought less of themselves..t

the older children found some reprieve from the apt in the public library..


22 – if they give momma the punishment

still poor – so to prison


23 –  the serenity club


the apt made scott feel affirmed, deserving of something better. it motivated him..


24 – can’t win for losing


epilogue – home and hope


‘eviction must be considered a traumatic rejection,’ they (group of psychiatrists) wrote.. ‘a denial of one’s most basic human needs, and an exquisitely shameful experience’.. suicides attributed to evictions and foreclosures doubled between 2005 and 2010 years when housing costs soared

loosing your home/possessions and often your job; being stamped w an eviction record and denied govt housing assistance; relocating to degrading housing in poor and dangerous neighborhoods; and suffering from increased material hardship, homelessness, depression , and illness – this is eviction’s fallout


eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty..t

among milwaukee renters, over 1 in 5 black women report having been evicted in their adutl life, compared with 1 in 12 hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women

most evicted household in milwaukee have children living in them, and across the country, many evicted children end up homeless..


12 yrs of ed.. fundamental human need

? oy


the majority of poor families.. a re not getting enough food because the rent eats first.. .. in 2013 – 67% of poor families receive no fed assistance..


in many housing courts around the country 90% of landlords are rep’d by attorneys and 90% of tenants are not..


the principle of due process has been replaced by mere process: pushing cases thru.


‘every condition exists simply because someone profits by its existence’ – mlk.

exploitation. now there’s a word that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate. it is a work that speaks to the fact that poverty is not just a product of low incomes. it is also a product of extractive markets..


if poverty persists in america, it is not for lack of resources..t


about this project

when i graduated, i felt a need to understand poverty in america, which i saw as the wellspring of so many miseries..


i wanted to try to write a book about poverty that didn’t focus exclusively on poor people or poor places. poverty was a relationship, i thought, involving poor and rich people alike. to understand poverty, i needed to understand that relationship.

this sent me searching for a process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. eviction was such a process..


living in the field helps quite a lot.. it’s the only way to have an immersive experience;… perspective… everyday lie.. all hours of the day..


woo invited me to live w him in a rooming house on first and locust. the rent was 400, utilities included. i accepted and paid the landlords: sherrena and quentin

quiet enough to hear


the only thing to do is spend as much time on the ground as you can, transforming yourself from novelty to perpetual foreigner


our ideas allow us to tame social life, to order it according to typologies and theories. as susan sontag has warned, this comfort can ‘deplete the world’ and get in the way of seeing


the guilt i felt during my fieldwork only intensified after i left. .. i couldn’t help translate a bottle of wine placed in front of me at a uni function or my monthly daycare bill into rent payments or bail money back in milwaukee.. it leaves an impression…

now.. imagine it’s your life..

seen too much to not..


i wondered how we in the research community could have overlooked something so fundamental to poverty in america: the dynamics of the private housing market..

the answer, i would later come to realize, was in the way we had been studying housing…. overlooking.. the private rental market.. where vast majority of poor people lived..  we hardly knew anything about it..


the survey showed that nearly half of those forced moves (48%) were informal evictions: off the books displacements not processed thru the court


estimated that do not account for informal evictionsn downplay the crisis in our cities.. .. harmful..


the presence of children in the household almost tripled a tenant’s odds of receiving an eviction judgment..


maybe what we are really asking when we ask if a study is ‘generalizable’ is: can it really be this bad everywhere” or maybe we’re asking: do i really have to pay attention to this problem..


how did you feel when you saw that.. how did you gain this sort of access.. these are find questions, but there is a bigger game afoot.. there is an enormous amount of pain/poverty in this rich land.. at a time of rampant inequality and widespread hardship, when hunger and homelessness are found throughout america,

i am interested in a different, more urgent conversation..t

‘i’ don’t matter..


the harder feat for any fieldworker is not getting in; it’s leaving. and the more difficult ethical dilemma is not how to respond when asked to help but how to repsond when you are given so much ..


kathyrn edin


Guillem Ramírez (@GuillemRC) tweeted at 3:08 AM – 4 Dec 2018 :
“While govs have abandoned tenants, they have not abandoned investors. Residential real estate is world’s biggest business: 163 trillion dollars – almost three times the annual world GDP. But housing is not gold, it is a human right”
@adequatehousing at #housingforall conference https://t.co/3nyUk7iUhK (http://twitter.com/GuillemRC/status/1069896231747502081?s=17)


living spaces

unauthorized home less ness


matt taibbi

money ness


bryan stevenson

shaka senghor

bud osborn – down here

liz evans

too many on the fringe

we have to try a nother way