Welcome to the discussion! We are so happy for you to join us. Our first book will be Evicted by Matthew Desmond.
Desmond, a Princeton sociologist, follows eight families living in Milwaukee. Written in 2016, Desmond’s main goal was to highlight the issues of extreme poverty, affordable housing, and economic exploitation in the United States. This novel went on to receive a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 and has been reviewed as one of the impressive works of scholarship, providing a voice to people who have been ignored or demonized by opinion makers over the course of decades, an essential piece of reportage, and one of the best social justice books of our time. It is said that Desmond has set a new standard for reporting on poverty.
I look forward to reading along with you and discussing Desmond’s work in Milwaukee as well as the CoC’s work here in Fredericksburg to address the issues of extreme poverty, affordable housing and economic exploitation.
11 thoughts on “Readings in Diversity Book Club: – March 2022 – Evicted By Matthew Desmond”
Upon finishing Evicted by Matthew Desmond, I wanted to kick this discussion off with some guided discussion questions to get you all thinking. I selected questions which addressed a diversity of experiences depicted throughout Desmond’s project. I also wanted to draw attention to Desmond’s proposed solutions as well. Feel free to reply to any of the questions below as to keep responses and dialogue for each question together. If you have your own questions, please feel free to ask them. We want this to be a safe place to learn and grow as a community.
I look forward to applying some of Desmond’s lessons and the impact of those with lived experience to our intervention strategies here at the Fredericksburg Continuum of Care.
1. If you were unexpectedly evicted from your home, what would the fallout be? How would this impact your education, employment, and relationships? How might a sudden change like eviction affect your physical and mental well-being?
2. Why do you think 90% of landlords are represented by attorneys in housing courts while 90% of tenants are not? What would you do if you were facing eviction and in need of legal assistance? Do you think attorneys should be provided to low-income tenants at no cost?
3. Desmond writes, “No one thought the poor more undeserving than the poor themselves” (page 180). How do you see this attitude reflected in residents of the trailer park? Do you see it reflected in Arleen’s actions?
4. Crystal was diagnosed with a wide range of mental illnesses. What struggles did Crystal face throughout her search for stable housing? How might mental illness present additional challenges to a person already living in poverty? How might mental illness contribute to a person’s history of eviction? What protections do people with mental illnesses have?
5. What challenges did Scott face while maintaining his sobriety? Do you think the process for Scott to get his nursing license back was reasonable? Why or why not? What relief did Scott receive after receiving subsidized housing and county-subsidized methadone treatment?
6. Why did Vanetta participate in an armed robbery? Do you think the 81-month sentence Vanetta received was too harsh? Why or why not? What challenges do you think Vanetta will face while serving a 15-month prison sentence? What challenges will she face while serving 66 months on parole? Why do you think Vanetta’s public defender failed to mention that she was attending GED classes, providing childcare, and looking for housing every morning? How might that information have impacted her sentencing?
7. Landlords repeatedly turned down Pam and Ned’s rental applications because they have children. Why? Do you think families with children should receive any protection when seeking housing? Why do you think families with children were not considered a protected class when Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968? Do you think it is fair for landlords to charge tenants with children monthly surcharges and children-damage deposits? Why or why not?
8. Arleen received 89 negative responses and one positive from prospective landlords. What impact did this have on her children, Jori and Jafaris? How do children expose families to eviction rather than shield them from it? What happened to Arleen when she was evicted from her apartment? After losing her possessions in storage and having her welfare case closed, what options did Arleen have?
9. Desmond writes that “Equal treatment in an unequal society could still foster inequality. Because black men were disproportionately incarcerated and black women were disproportionately evicted, uniformly denying housing to applicants with recent criminal or eviction records still had an incommensurate impact on African Americans” (Page 252). How do you think that systemic injustices contribute to homelessness? What if any further action should be taken to address this social injustice?
10. After sharing the stories and experiences of the families, Desmond summarizes that the home is the center of life because it encompasses an escape from external stressors, a place for development of the self, the beginnings of civic life and involvement in professional careers and community and also is vital to the ideas of the American spirit. Desmond asserts that when housing is unstable it “reduces to poverty those born for better things” as individuals are no longer able to invest in their home, community, work life, social relationships or improvement of themselves (page 295). Desmond proposes that the solution for evictions, unstable housing, and homelessness, is a reform of our current housing voucher program to be more inclusive as well as providing legal aid to those in civil courts much like we do in criminal matters. Desmond asserts that this solution would be costly up front but would be the most cost-effective solution down the line as money spent on ineffective wrap around services and temporary housing would not be necessary if we cut the problem off at the source. Do you think this would be a successful solution? What would it take to impact such societal change? Do you believe that it could be done, why or why not?