MANSFIELD: Evicted

Perhaps the most important and incisive book of the last few years, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and the co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project, takes a deep dive into one of the most troubling and persistent social issues of our time: The inability of some folks to secure permanent housing.

Indeed, most of the difficulties faced by children living in poverty as they attempt to gain an education can be traced to the fact that many of them change schools three, four and five times during the school year. Is it no wonder they fall behind, then drop out, and then join a gang? And we know what often happens after that — they pick up a gun.

This issue, as well as the myriad other social problems created by housing instability, will be addressed at the State Theatre on Thu 3/15 @ 7pm as the author makes a stop in Cleveland to expand upon what he put on the pages of his award-winning work of nonfiction. The event is free, but you must register at onecommunityreads to obtain tickets. And when I say “award-winning” I really mean it: The book has by far won more awards by far than any other in recent memory.

And the reason people are interested is because of questions like the ones posed by Great Britain’s newspaper The Guardian, which asked the provocative question, “What if the dominant discourse on poverty is just wrong? What if the problem isn’t that poor people have bad morals — that they’re lazy and impulsive and irresponsible and have no family values — or that they lack the skills and smarts to fit in with our shiny 21st-century economy? What if the problem is that poverty is profitable?”

Questions of this kind are at the heart of Evicted, a book that follows the intertwined lives of eight families and a host of tangential characters that come from a variety of hard-luck backgrounds — and some of the hard luck is of their own making, to be sure. But those most victimized by eviction are women, because they earn less and have to pay a larger percentage of their income in rent. And most of the women have children.

Of course in the Age of Trump those on the far right will posit that poor women should forego the pleasure of motherhood, simply because they are poor. But the fact is, these folks are thinking way ahead — to the time when persons of color will outnumber whites. So their argument is not a financial one, but a political one.

When it comes to race and class, nothing is straightforward in America. And the saying that “it costs more to be poor” is never more true than in Desmond’s magnificent book. Some landlords are getting filthy rich off of people living on the financial margins of life. In Evicted, one of the biggest transgressors is not some mean-spirited, snarling, tattooed white guy, but a black former school teacher who has become a poverty pimp.

But this is not a problem that has no solution. Universal housing vouchers are working in some countries and are also working in some American cities. But neighborhoods have to become more welcoming to individuals with marginal incomes. After all, they too are Americans.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.

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