Sunday, April 17, 2016

"Evicted", an important book

The subtitle of this book by Matthew Desmond is "Poverty And Profit In the American City".  It is a third person but first hand non-fiction account of what is happening with lower income housing in this country.  It is a devastatingly accurate portrait.

This phenomenon has been seen forever it seems, beginning in my mid-sized hometown in southern Virginia.  The poor exploit other poor, an ethnic group exploits its own, shopkeepers are set up to benefit unreasonably, and outsiders approach from all sides.  When a person, a family or a community, a block, or an area starts sliding down, they are subject to predators from all sides.  The government has those within it who mean well and are trying to manage this situation, but mostly they are just processors of the inevitable, paperwork piles from day to day.

This book chronicles the lives of a group of individuals and families in the less advantaged parts of Milwaukee, and the grating challenge housing is for many.  While public sector programs exist with many limitations, the private sector real estate market, mostly rental, serves(wrong word) the needs of at least two thirds of the poor.  It beats the heck out of them, damages them, especially children.  The government programs with their rigid parameters can be impossible for many to take advantage of or manage.  The courts are terribly burdensome for those without transportation and limited time for breaks from work.

This book should be number one on the New York Times non-fiction best seller list*.  This is an urgent issue that is so well described by Desmond* from the ground up.  The stories of lives in this book bring to mind the seminal books about poverty from the 1960's, and while it's a different time now the angst and agony may even be greater due to the break up of extended families and the vision of existing wealth around them so apparent on television.  One could lament what little progress we seem to have made on the most deeply entrenched problems in housing, a fundamental building block of society.

Whether the solutions suggested in the book are feasible cannot be judged in the short term.  It is more important to get this problem onto the agenda.  This is an important book.

*it is number 13 now

*Harvard professor now but no stranger to the world of hard knocks


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