The lack of affordable housing sits at the root of a host of social problems, from poverty and homelessness to educational disparities and health care. That means understanding the eviction crisis is critical to effectively addressing these problems and reducing inequality. However, before the launch of the Eviction Lab dataset, little was known about the prevalence of eviction in America, so studying its causes and consequences on a national level was impossible. This new dataset gives us the tools to better understand—and fight—America’s eviction epidemic.
An eviction happens when a landlord expels people from property he or she owns. Evictions are landlord-initiated involuntary moves that happen to renters, whereas foreclosures are involuntary moves that happen to homeowners when a bank or other lending agency repossesses a home.
Most evictions happen because renters cannot or do not pay their rent. Landlords can evict renters for a number of other reasons, too, including taking on boarders, damaging property, causing a disturbance, or breaking the law. In most American cities and towns, landlords can evict renters even if they have not missed a rent payment or otherwise violated their lease agreement; these are called “no fault” evictions.
Today, most poor renting families spend at least half of their income on housing costs, with one in four of those families spending over 70 percent of their income just on rent and utilities. Incomes for Americans of modest means have flatlined while housing costs have soared. Only one in four families who qualifies for affordable housing programs gets any kind of help. Under those conditions, it has become harder for low-income families to keep up with rent and utility costs, and a growing number are living one misstep or emergency away from eviction.
Landlords initiate the process, and renters are served notice to appear in court. Almost everywhere in the United States, evictions take place in civil court, where renters have no right to an attorney. For this reason and others, most renters do not appear in eviction court. When this happens, they receive a default eviction judgement, provided that the landlord or a representative is present. Renters who do appear in court may also receive an eviction judgement ordering them to vacate their home by a specific date. Eviction cases can be resolved in other ways as well. For one, the case may be dismissed or ruled in favor of defendants, allowing renter to remain in their home. In addition, a mediated agreement can be established between a landlord and a renter, often called a “settlement” or “stipulation,” which comes with certain terms. If renters meet the terms, the eviction is dismissed; if they do not, an eviction judgment can be rendered. In the event that evicted renters do not leave their home by the specified date, their landlord may file a “writ of restitution,” which permits law enforcement officers to forcibly remove a family and often their belongings.
Low-income women, especially poor women of color, have a high risk of eviction. Research has shown domestic violence victims and families with children are also at particularly high risk for eviction.
Eviction causes a family to lose their home. They often are also expelled from their community and their children have to switch schools. Families regularly lose their possessions, too, which are piled on the sidewalk or placed in storage, only to be reclaimed after paying a fee. A legal eviction comes with a court record, which can prevent families from relocating to decent housing in a safe neighborhood, because many landlords screen for recent evictions. Studies also show that eviction causes job loss, as the stressful and drawn-out process of being forcibly expelled from a home causes people to make mistakes at work and lose their job. Eviction also has been shown to affect people's mental health: one study found that mothers who experienced eviction reported higher rates of depression two years after their move. The evidence strongly indicates that eviction is not just a condition of poverty, it is a cause of it.
The website Just Shelter contains links to over 600 community and national organizations offering housing assistance, education and advocacy, legal aid and tenants' rights counseling.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in The American City
by Matthew Desmond
WINNER OF THE 2017 PULITZER PRIZE FOR GENERAL NONFICTION
In Evicted, Princeton sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Hailed as “wrenching and revelatory” (The Nation), “vivid and unsettling” (New York Review of Books), Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of 21st-century America’s most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.
New York Times Bestseller Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction Winner of The Pen/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner of the 2017 Hillman Prize For Book Journalism Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize
One of President Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2017
"Astonishing... Desmond has set a new standard for reporting on poverty."
—Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times Book Review
"After reading Evicted, you’ll realize you cannot have a serious conversation about poverty without talking about housing.... The book is that good, and it’s that unignorable."
—Jennifer Senior, New York Times Critics’ Top Books of 2016
"This book gave me a better sense of what it is like to be very poor in this country than anything else I have read… It is beautifully written, thought-provoking, and unforgettable."
"Inside my copy of his book, Mr. Desmond scribbled a note: “home = life.” Too many in Washington don’t understand that. We need a government that will partner with communities, from Appalachia to the suburbs to downtown Cleveland, to make hard work pay off for all these overlooked Americans."
—Senator Sherrod Brown, Wall Street Journal
"My God, what [Evicted] lays bare about American poverty. It is devastating and infuriating and a necessary read."
—Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist and Difficult Women
"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."
—Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times
"In spare and penetrating prose... Desmond has made it impossible to consider poverty without grappling with the role of housing. This pick [as best book of 2016] was not close."
—Carlos Lozada, Washington Post
"An essential piece of reportage about poverty and profit in urban America."
—Geoff Dyer, The Guardian’s Best Holiday Reads 2016
"Gripping and important…[Desmond's] portraits are vivid and unsettling."
—Jason DeParle, New York Review of Books
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