eviction

Harvard Magazine

Harvard Magazine

It’s awkward to become famous for writing about poverty. Just ask Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, whose book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. For his research, Desmond spent more than a year living in trailer parks and inner-city rooming houses to document the housing struggles of eight Milwaukee families—struggles that Desmond could not forget.

“I couldn’t help but translate a bottle of wine placed in front of me at a university function or my monthly daycare bill into rent payments or bail money back in Milwaukee,” writes Desmond in Evicted. “It leaves an impression, this kind of work. Now imagine it’s your life.”

Desmond used the proceeds from Evicted to create two foundations: Just Shelter, which highlights organizations preserving affordable housing, and another to directly assist the families he writes about in the book. But Desmond doesn’t want to be lionized; he wants to reframe the conversation about poverty in America.

“When we talk about the poor, it’s almost as if we talk about them as isolated from the rest of us, as if their lives aren’t connected to ours—but they absolutely are,” Desmond told Sojourners associate editor Betsy Shirley. As he sees it, that means we all need to consider “how we receive some benefit that others don’t—and ask hard questions about the fairness of that.”

Neeraj Mehta 4-25-2017

I remember the first day of my housing-policy class in graduate school. I was late. I had just left the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority where I was helping a family activate the housing-choice voucher they had recently been granted.

I found a seat near the door in the back of the classroom. After welcoming us, the professor opened with what seemed like a simple request: “Raise your hand if you have ever lived in subsidized housing.” In a class of about 40 students, only three or four hands went up. I kept mine down.

He followed with a second question: “How many of you have lived in a house either you or your parents owned?” I raised my hand—along with a majority of my classmates. “Congratulations,” he responded. “You too have lived in subsidized housing.”

He used the rest of class to describe the two major types of housing assistance offered by the U.S. government.

The first type is public housing and housing-choice vouchers that limit what a household pays for rent to 30 percent of their income. This is what most of us think of when we hear the phrase “subsidized housing.” The Department of Housing and Urban Development runs these programs, which are meant to benefit mainly households that earn 30 percent or less of median income for an area. This might be $12,750 for a family of four in Mississippi or $27,600 in California. Congress allots about $38 billion per year for these programs.

The second form of government-funded financial assistance for housing is the mortgage-interest tax deduction, which allows homeowners who itemize deductions to deduct the interest they pay on their home loans. The deduction can be applied to both primary and second residences, including boats with bathrooms. Most households that benefit from the mortgage-interest tax deduction earn between $100,000 and $500,000 a year. This, the largest housing subsidy program in the country, costs the federal government upward of $100 billion a year.

OF THE HALF-DOZEN homes that Arleen and her two boys lived in during 2008 and 2009, her favorite was a four-bedroom house on Milwaukee’s North Side. Its exterior was only half painted, and the house was ultimately condemned as unfit for human habitation, forcing Arleen and her sons to move to a shabby apartment in a drug-infested neighborhood. Despite its flaws, as Arleen bounced from one apartment to another, applying nearly her entire monthly income to renting from landlords slow to make repairs but quick to evict, she would long remember that house for its space and relative quiet.

Arleen and her sons are one of the families profiled by Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond in his masterful, heartbreaking book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. For his research, Desmond first moved into a trailer park on Milwaukee’s predominately white South Side, and then into a shared apartment on the predominately black North Side. He observed and interviewed people such as Scott, a nurse whose drug habit led him to lose his license and end up sharing a low-rent trailer with a disabled veteran; Lamar, an amputee and father of teenage boys who lived in a dilapidated duplex until a fire destroyed it; and Vanetta, a mother of three who dreamed of an apartment with a bathtub for her kids and a good job, for whom a judgment lapse in a desperate time instead landed her a 15-month prison sentence.

Al Webb 2-29-2012
Photo by Anky / Shutterstock.com

Photo by Anky / Shutterstock.com

LONDON — Police on Tuesday evicted scores of demonstrators from a makeshift tent city they had erected outside historic St. Paul's Cathedral more than four months ago as part of a global protest against capitalism.

After brief skirmishes in the operation that authorities launched before dawn, 20 protesters were arrested but most reacted largely peacefully as they were moved out.

Police dumped an estimated 150 tents and equipment into waiting garbage trucks. By midday, the former campsite was cleared and the last of its occupiers were leaving.

Jack Palmer 11-17-2011

As Injured Vets Return Home, Churches Reach Out. Occupy Wall Street Gears Up For The Big Day. Faith Overtones In Occupy Protests But Leaders Wary. OpEd: How The First Amendment Got Hijacked. Religious Groups Offer Help To Evicted Protesters. OpEd: What Happens When A Seminary Is Occupied? Religious Voices Loud And Clear At Keystone XL Protests. Iowa Scientists Ask Candidates To Acknowledge Climate Change. And Below The Line: Portraits Of American Poverty.

Jim Wallis 11-17-2011

It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!

And Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters — the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing movement over for a big holiday dinner!

Our faith communities and organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing inequality in our society.

the Web Editors 11-15-2011

 A judge upheld New York City's legal justification for evicting Occupy Wall Street protesters from a park on Tuesday after police in riot gear broke up a two-month-old demonstration against economic inequality.

Dave MacMillan 11-15-2011
Protest sign at OWS in NYC today. Image via Facebook.

Protest sign at OWS in NYC today. Image via Facebook.

They came at 1 am.  

Several hundred police in full riot gear in a precision military operation. They gathered at nearby assembly points out of sight of Zuccotti Park and then simultaneously came trotting out to surround the park like the army scene from The Blues Brothers movie.

Next they handed out fliers and announced by bullhorn that all personal property would be removed from the park, and that it could be reclaimed at a Department of Sanitation garage. Instead, everything was thrown into garbage trucks and crushed by the compactor’s blades. ...

Most of the occupiers were steamrolled out of the park in this manner. Because there was no tent space when I got there I was sleeping on the sidewalk at night, and packing everything back up each morning, so I was able to save everything, but for several items I kept in the OWS kitchen.

A group of more than a hundred Occupiers retreated to the kitchen at the center of the park and chained themselves by their necks to a tree. They were tear-gassed where they sat and were removed by means we have not yet learned of, and we don’t yet know what injuries were sustained.

There is a biblical story in which Samson used the jawbone of an ass to defeat his enemies. Today some politicians seem to think "jawboning" -- talk and more talk, whether sweet or angry -- can actually win peace in the Middle East. But it will take much stronger action.

Lynne Hybels 10-29-2009

When it comes to Israel/Palestine, the human story often gets lost in the confusion of ideology and politics. Let me just highlight the story of one woman, a wife and mother named Isme. Prior to October 12, 2009, Isme lived in a small but tidy one-story house in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Subscribe