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Do you believe the right to a decent home is part of the American dream? This was the question Matthew Desmond, of Harvard University, posed in his recent book entitled Evicted.
He argued that the answer should be “yes” and drew from his extensive field work to support his conclusions.
Desmond, who is a trained sociologist, conducted a large-scale research project aimed at better understanding housing and evictions. To do so, he spent over three years conducting in extensive research. He moved to a trailer park known for the high number of evictions and later lived in the inner city Milwaukee. He took over 5000 pages of notes from talking with his new neighbors, landlords, and others who he encountered. In a separate part of the study, he conducted two large scale surveys of Milwaukee residents and scoured millions of court documents.
Desmond found that evictions in the city were shockingly common. Within a two-year span, 1 in 8 people were forced to move, either through formal eviction, foreclosure, or building condemnation.
Evictions, however, are not evenly distributed. Racial minorities are more likely to be removed from their homes than are Whites. Women, especially Black women, faced higher eviction rates than their peers. And, women with children are especially likely to face forced removal from their homes.
The effects are remarkably harsh. People lose basic shelter, one of the fundamental needs people have. They also lose their communities, are forced to switch schools, and all too often, lose their possessions in the process. And this list just scratches the surface.
Desmond offers a number of possible solutions, including a universal housing voucher program for people below the 30th percentile in median income. Though expensive, Desmond’s work shows the need of such programs, and costs could be offset by the corresponding reduction in program aimed at reducing homelessness.