Eradicating poverty must involve expanding housing stability

Monday, January 8, 2018

Almost two years ago, Matthew Desmond’s published his Pulitzer-prize winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, detailing the rise of evictions. WRAG’s Vice President, Gretchen Greiner-Lott, tweeted about the book last August and provides her thoughts on this growing problem in the blog post below. This post originally appeared in the Daily WRAG.

By Gretchen Greiner-Lott
Vice President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Over the summer, I took a trans-continental flight to attend a conference. I usually enjoy losing myself in a book of fiction during my travels. This time, I took a book of fact – and it wasn’t pretty. In the pages of Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, there were tales of families, landlords, governments, courts, and businesses, who were all part of a growing issue in our country – evictions.

According to Desmond, back in the day, whole communities would come out to witness and support their neighbors who were in the process of being evicted. Back then, evictions were rare. Now, millions of Americans are evicted each year, and a whole cottage industry has developed around it – eviction movers, eviction storage, businesses that provide landlords with new tenants as soon as old tenants are evicted, and data mining companies that provide reports to landlords about prospective renters’ eviction history.

Why has the number of evictions risen to this crisis point? Because we have an underlying problem – a lack of affordable and safe homes. Although the book focuses specifically on how this issue plays out in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (from 2008-2009), it is an American tale. And the story has been getting worse over these past nine years.

According to Rental Insecurity: The Threat of Evictions to America’s Renters, a recent report by Apartment List, one in five renters has recently struggled or been unable to pay rent. Other findings include that:

  • black households experience the highest rate of evictions, even when controlling for education and income
  • households with children are twice as likely to experience an eviction threat, regardless of marital status
  • evictions have been tied to poor health outcomes in both adults and children
  • evictions are a leading cause of homelessness

Once you have an eviction on your rental record, it is harder to find and rent the next apartment. So people who have experienced eviction discover that the only places they can rent are in worse neighborhoods and in worse condition than their previous apartment. And the rent does not go down; in some cases, it may actually go up. This creates a downward spiral in both living conditions and economic stability.

Desmond states in his prologue that “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty.” So, for those of you who are trying to combat poverty but are not looking at housing as a cure, it’s time.

If you are interested in learning more about housing affordability issues in and solutions for the Greater Washington region, WRAG invites all members to join future Affordable Housing Action Team (AHAT) meetings. The first AHAT meeting of 2018 will be on February 20 from 10am to noon at WRAG. Look for more information in WRAG’s weekly event e-blast.

In April, the National Building Museum will host an exhibit based on the book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. They hope to create an experience that will allow visitors to understand the challenges families face when they are forced to undergo the traumatic experience of being evicted. Learn more here