In 2017, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing. Eviction, once a rare, last-resort scenario, has become an ordinary occurrence, especially for single mothers.
Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient Matthew Desmond went into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to learn the stories of families struggling to keep even meager shelter. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book that resulted – Evicted: Poverty and Profit In the American City – is SMU’s 2017 Common Reading.
Significantly, one of the families Desmond profiles includes a landlord and her husband, writes Peter K. Moore, SMU associate provost for curricular innovation and policy. “Discussing the great difficulties the poor face just to keep a roof over their heads, it would have been easy to demonize the landlords, but Desmond shows their struggles as well — providing real nuance and a window into the issue’s complexities.
“Ideally, this work will reveal to our students how much some people struggle to stay afloat financially — introducing them to the fact that those living near the poverty line typically spend up to 50 percent and in some cases 90 percent of their income on a decent and safe place to live,” Moore added.
In a Washington Post review, Carlos Lozada wrote, “In this astonishing feat of ethnography, Desmond immerses himself in the lives of Milwaukee families caught in the cycle of chronic eviction. In spare and penetrating prose, [he] chronicles the economic and psychological toll of living in substandard housing, and the eviscerating impact of constantly moving between homes and shelters. With Evicted, Desmond has made it impossible to consider poverty without grappling with the role of housing.”
“Written with the vividness of a novel, [Evicted] offers a dark mirror of middle-class America’s obsession with real estate, laying bare the workings of the low end of the market, where evictions have become just another part of an often lucrative business model,” wrote Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times.
The annual book discussion with faculty, staff members and new SMU students will take place on Sunday, Aug. 20, before Opening Convocation.
In addition, Desmond will visit the University Thursday, August 24, for a 6 p.m. lecture in McFarlin Auditorium, with a Q&A session and book-signing afterward.