Matthew Desmond · 418 pages
Rating: (28.4K votes)
“Every condition exists,” Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “simply because someone profits by its existence. This economic exploitation is crystallized in the slum.” Exploitation. Now, there’s a word that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate.”
“it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”
“If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources.”
“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”
“The home is the center of life. It is a refuge from the grind of work, the pressure of school, and the menace of the streets. We say that at home, we can “be ourselves.” Everywhere else, we are someone else. At home, we remove our masks.
The home is the wellspring of personhood. It is where our identity takes root and blossoms, where as children, we imagine, play, and question, and as adolescents, we retreat and try. As we grow older, we hope to settle into a place to raise a family or pursue work. When we try to understand ourselves, we often begin by considering the kind of home in which we were raised.”
“No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”
“But equal treatment in an unequal society could still foster inequality. Because black men were disproportionately incarcerated and black women disproportionately evicted, uniformly denying housing to applicants with recent criminal or eviction records still had an incommensurate impact on African Americans.”
“Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”
“The year the police called Sherrena, Wisconsin saw more than one victim per week murdered by a current or former romantic partner or relative. 10 After the numbers were released, Milwaukee’s chief of police appeared on the local news and puzzled over the fact that many victims had never contacted the police for help. A nightly news reporter summed up the chief’s views: “He believes that if police were contacted more often, that victims would have the tools to prevent fatal situations from occurring in the future.” What the chief failed to realize, or failed to reveal, was that his department’s own rules presented battered women with a devil’s bargain: keep quiet and face abuse or call the police and face eviction.”
“Our cities have become unaffordable to our poorest families, and this problem is leaving a deep and jagged scar on our next generation.”
“By and large, the poor do not want some small life. They don't want to game the system or eke out an existence; they want to thrive and contribute.”
“Landlords took the side streets, typically not in their Saab or Audi but in their “rent collector,” some oil-leaking, rusted-out van or truck that hauled around extension cords, ladders, maybe a loaded pistol, plumbing snakes, toolboxes, a can of Mace, nail guns, and other necessities.”
“But it was not enough simply to perceive injustice. Mass resistance was possible only when people believed they had the collective capacity to change things. For poor people, this required identifying with the oppressed, and counting yourself among them—which was something most trailer park residents were absolutely unwilling to do.”
“The profits were staggering. In 1966, a Chicago landlord told a court that on a single property he had made $42,500 in rent but paid only $2,400 in maintenance. When accused of making excessive profits, the landlord simply replied, “That’s why I bought the building.”
“No one thought the poor more undeserving than the poor themselves.”
“Poverty was a relationship, I thought, involving poor and rich people alike. To understand poverty, I needed to understand that relationship. This sent me searching for a process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process.”
“Sometimes, the truth comes out slow.”
“We have the money. We’ve just made choices about how to spend it. Over the years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have restricted housing aid to the poor but expanded it to the affluent in the form of tax benefits for homeowners. 57 Today, housing-related tax expenditures far outpace those for housing assistance. In 2008, the year Arleen was evicted from Thirteenth Street, federal expenditures for direct housing assistance totaled less than $40.2 billion, but homeowner tax benefits exceeded $171 billion. That number, $171 billion, was equivalent to the 2008 budgets for the Department of Education, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture combined. 58 Each year, we spend three times what a universal housing voucher program is estimated to cost (in total ) on homeowner benefits, like the mortgage-interest deduction and the capital-gains exclusion.
Most federal housing subsidies benefit families with six-figure incomes. 59 If we are going to spend the bulk of our public dollars on the affluent—at least when it comes to housing—we should own up to that decision and stop repeating the politicians’ canard about one of the richest countries on the planet being unable to afford doing more. If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources.”
“Establishing publicly funded legal services for low-income families in housing court would be a cost-effective measure that would prevent homelessness, decrease evictions, and give poor families a fair shake.”
“What else is a nation but a patchwork of cities and towns; cities and towns a patchwork of neighborhoods; and neighborhoods a patchwork of homes?”
“Every year in this country, people are evicted from their homes not by the tens of thousands or even the hundreds of thousands but by the millions.”
“We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty. Not everyone living in a distressed neighborhood is associated with gang members, parole officers, employers, social workers, or pastors. But nearly all of them have a landlord.”
“You could only say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t’ so many times before you began to feel worthless, edging closer to a breaking point. So you protected yourself, in a reflexive way, by finding ways to say ‘No, I won’t.’ I cannot help you. So, I will find you unworthy of help.”
“Exploitation. Now, there’s a word that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate. 42 It is a word that speaks to the fact that poverty is not just a product of low incomes. It is also a product of extractive markets. Boosting poor people’s incomes by increasing the minimum wage or public benefits, say, is absolutely crucial. But not all of those extra dollars will stay in the pockets of the poor. Wage hikes are tempered if rents rise along with them, just as food stamps are worth less if groceries in the inner city cost more—and they do, as much as 40 percent more, by one estimate. 43 Poverty is two-faced—a matter of income and expenses, input and output—and in a world of exploitation, it will not be effectively ameliorated if we ignore this plain fact.”
“Exploitation thrives when it comes to the essentials, like housing and food. Most of the 12 million Americans who take out high-interest payday loans do so not to buy luxury items or cover unexpected expenses but to pay the rent or gas bill, buy food, or meet other regular expenses. Payday loans are but one of many financial techniques—from overdraft fees to student loans for for-profit colleges—specifically designed to pull money from the pockets of the poor.46 If the poor pay more for their housing, food, durable goods, and credit, and if they get smaller returns on their educations and mortgages (if they get returns at all), then their incomes are even smaller than they appear. This is fundamentally unfair.”
“Petitions, picket lines, civil disobedience—this kind of political mobilization required a certain shift in vision. “For a protest movement to arise out of [the] traumas of daily life,” the sociologists Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward have observed, “the social arrangements that are ordinarily perceived as just and immutable must come to seem both unjust and mutable.” This usually happened during extraordinary times, when large-scale social transformations or economic disturbances—the postwar housing shortage, say—profoundly upset the status quo. But it was not enough simply to perceive injustice. Mass resistance was possible only when people believed they had the collective capacity to change things. For poor people, this required identifying with the oppressed, and counting yourself among them—which was something most trailer park residents were absolutely unwilling to do.”
“It was not that low-income renters didn’t know their rights. They just knew those rights would cost them.”
“There is nothing in the prospect of a sharp, unceasing battle for the bare necessities of life to encourage looking ahead, everything to discourage the effort….The evil day of reckoning is put off till a to-morrow that may never come. When it does come…it simply adds another hardship to a life measured from the cradle by such incidents.”
“In white neighborhoods, only 1 in 41 properties that could have received a nuisance citation actually did receive one. In black neighborhoods, 1 in 16 eligible properties received a citation. A woman reporting domestic violence was far more likely to land her landlord a nuisance citation if she lived in the inner city.
In the vast majority of cases (83 percent), landlords who received a nuisance citation for domestic violence responded by either evicting the tenants or by threatening to evict them for future police calls. Sometimes, this meant evicting a couple, but most of the time landlords evicted women abused by men who did not live with them.”
“optimism, where it is not just the thoughtless talk of someone with only words in his flat head, strikes me as not only absurd, but even a truly wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of humanity.”
“We do marriage according to Dr. Phil, raise our children according to Dr. Spock, govern our sex lives according to Dr. Ruth, and only run to Dr. Jesus when things have gotten so bad we can’t find another doctor to help us.”
“The visit hadn't lasted much longer, and Wallace never said what he'd done, but after Larry watched him go, he'd spent the rest of the night on his porch as daylight crept through the trees like am army of crafty boys.”
“I can tell you, Jay, nothing that happens in this life is worth killing yourself over. Time passes, and you can decide to change your future. You don't let what some assholes say or do, direct you. In this life, it only matters what you do with it.”
“You can go back to blacksmithing in Hintindar and live a quiet happy life. Do me a favor and marry some pretty farm girl and train your son to beat the crap out of imperial knights."
"Sure," Hadrian told him. "And with any luck he'll make friends with a cynical burglar who'll do nothing but torment him.”
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