On December 9, MacArthur “Genius” and Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond (Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City) discussed his book and his work on housing access and affordability as well as broader, longstanding issues of critical importance to the health of our nation: income and housing insecurity. Desmond was in conversation with Kevin McDonald, UVA’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships.
Watch the recorded event and read the transcript below. Please note that the video and transcript of the entire event will be available for two weeks following the live event. After that time, the interview and Q&A portions will continue to be available.
Read Matthew Desmond’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “The Tenants Who Evicted Their Landlord.”
If you would like to learn more about current eviction protections in Virginia, please explore these resources from the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
If you would like updated information on eviction rates in Virginia, please see the Legal Aid Justice Center’s eviction tracker.
JANE KULOW: Good evening, and welcome to EVICTED: An evening with Matthew Desmond, a special event presented by the Virginia Festival of the Book. I’m Jane Kulow, director of the Virginia Center for the Book, a program of Virginia Humanities. Thank you for joining us.
Tonight’s event is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and their support for the Virginia Humanities initiative “Changing the Narrative through the Power of Story”. We also appreciate the planning support of Elaine Poon at the Legal Aid Justice Center and Sunshine Mathon, director of Piedmont Housing Alliance. Further, we wish to recognize our many community partners who shared information about this event, many of them working on or raising awareness of these issues of housing affordability and access. That list:
Albemarle County Community Development Department, Albemarle Housing Improvement Program – AHIP, Building Goodness Foundation, Central Virginia Regional Housing Partnership, Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, Charlottesville Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, Charlottesville Tomorrow, Clergy and Laity United for Justice and Peace, The Democracy Initiative at UVA, The Equity Center at UVA, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville, The Haven, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Mapping Cville, Network2Work@PVCC, New City Arts Initiative, New Dominion Bookshop, PACEM, Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR), Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, UVA Department of Urban and Environmental Planning, UVA Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, UVA Institute for Engagement & Negotiation, UVA Library, University and Community Action for Racial Equity (UCARE), Virginia Housing, and Virginia Organizing.
Thank you all! A couple notes before I hand the program over to our speakers: Please share your questions on Facebook or Zoom. This event has optional closed captioning, which you can turn on and customize at any time during the event using the Closed Captions tab. If you haven’t already read EVICTED, we hope you will. For details about how to buy it from New Dominion Bookshop or check out a copy from your library, visit VaBook.org, where you can also explore the full schedule of upcoming events.
Now, I’m pleased to introduce tonight’s speakers. Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” is the founder of Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which maintains the first-ever national dataset of evictions in America, collecting millions of data points back to 2000. Matt is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. In 2015, he was awarded the MacArthur “Genius” Grant for “revealing the impact of eviction on the lives of the urban poor and its role in perpetuating racial and economic inequality.”
Kevin McDonald is the University of Virginia’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships. He joined UVA after serving as the chief diversity officer and vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity, and equity at the University of Missouri System and the University of Missouri – Columbia.
Tonight’s featured book, “Evicted,” received multiple awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medal, the PEN/New England Award, and the Pulitzer Prize, and was named to nearly three dozen best of the year lists.
In Evicted, Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they each struggle to keep a roof over their heads, and uses a combination of stories and data to transform our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of twenty-first-century America’s most devastating problems. A longstanding issue is now made worse by orders of magnitude due to the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, including hundreds of thousands at risk of eviction in Virginia, and the anticipation that a wave of evictions could fuel an uptick in virus cases.
Tonight, Matthew Desmond will begin by speaking about his book and his work, and then he will be joined by Kevin McDonald in conversation and for questions from attendees.
Matt — welcome! We are so honored to have you join us tonight. Please tell us more about your work.
[Matthew Desmond’s presentation about his book, Evicted, is unfortunately no longer available for public viewing but the discussion and Q&A from this event follows.]
KEVIN McDONALD: Matt, thank you so much. Thank you so much for being with us this evening and for your powerful presentation. It is truly an honor to be able to spend some time with you, and I know that you participated in a plethora of interviews and have heard this numerous times, but what you’ve written is a compelling ethnographic study, that has opened the eyes of many to the impact of evictions across our nation and the sickening notion that there are those across our nation that are committed to gaining profit from poverty. A level of exploitation that I, for one, didn’t fully fathom until reading your book. Thank you for first and foremost for unpacking this important subject.
MATTHEW DESMOND: Thank you, Kevin.
KEVIN McDONALD: I know this had to have been a difficult undertaking and that it had to have broken your heart to listen and recount in your book painful lived experiences. The general question I have to kick things off, where do jurisdictions begin to identify and implement solutions for evictions because this eviction problem to me feels almost like a runaway train.
MATTHEW DESMOND: It is big! It is a big problem You are right. And I think that when we are confronted with the magnitude of the problem, it’s an incredibly scary time. It’s especially scary since the end of the year is coming up.
And the national eviction moratorium, which has held off this wave of evictions during the pandemic economy is about to dissolve. And a lot of us are waiting and crossing our fingers and waiting for 2020 to be gone, but for many renters, they are looking at the end of the year with a lot of dread.
But– there is a lot of good news actually and a lot of reasons to be hopeful and one of the very simple reasons to be hopeful is the solutions that we have really work and they are really great. They are not perfect, but like kids that grow up in public housing today, they do better later on in life than kids that grow up in private market. They’re exposed to these kind of dynamics. When families receive a voucher after years on the waiting list, which allows them to spend 30% on rent instead of 60 or 70, they do one consistent thing with their freed up income, which is they buy more food.
They go to the grocery store. There’s little things we can do, too. This is not necessarily a little thing. We can provide lawyers for families in eviction court. That’s a right that extends to criminal court but not in civil court. Almost everywhere in the country. But New York City, was the first one. They instituted this right a few years ago and since they did evictions have decreased by 40% in the city. I think there are solutions available. Just like a lot of things in the country there’s not enough of it. The dose is too small. We’ve got a patient with cancer, and we give them Tylenol and wonder why it’s not working.
KEVIN McDONALD: Yeah. You mentioned the Eviction Lab and I know you founded the Eviction Lab in 2017 because you saw this need to address fundamental questions on rental instability, forced moves and poverty in America. And in reviewing the data, the top eviction cities in the United States on the Eviction Lab website I was astounded that 5 out of the top 10, 6 out of the top 15; the largest number of evictions were in the state of Virginia. I think the next closest cities had two out 15. And can you help us understand this data? Why are evictions so prevalent in Virginia?
MATTHEW DESMOND: You guys are bad for evictions. You know, it’s really hard to match actually Virginia for the level of evictions in your state. South Carolina is there with you. But you are really at the top of the line, and I think there’s things that we can talk about that have happened in the recent past and in the not so recent past that drive this.
You know, one of the reasons is, you know, places with the highest eviction rates are often the places that make it really easy to evict someone. If evictions are pretty cheap and quick in your city or state property owners tend to evict more. You know, it’s pretty clear. So a Southern state that has made it harder to evict people is Alabama. Alabama, you know, it costs over $200 to file an eviction, for example, in Mobile, Alabama. It costs 40 bucks in Charleston, South Carolina, for example. We can make a dent in the eviction process by addressing the laws. But there’s a deeper story here, the American story about racism and the systematic denial of the land –land security, from African Americans.
So if you look at the national map that we did on evictions and you look at the density of African American folks in counties with maps of evictions over that, there’s a clear story there. I think one way to tell the story of African American life in America is from slavery to sharecropping to the great migration to the ghettoization of African Americans to the failure of public housing, even to the sub-prime crisis of 2008 and 2009, where we know that Black families were targeted by lending companies.
Over and over again you have this kind of creation of a system that denies housing and land security to black families. And so most white folks in America own their homes and they are shielded from these kinds of high rent hikes and evictions. But most Black families are actually renters and disproportionately exposed to this. That is a story that Virginia contributes to in a large way.
KEVIN McDONALD: Matt, there’s one question in the Q&A box regarding Eviction Lab data: I just wanted to know when folks can realistically expect an update on the eviction data currently represented there?
MATTHEW DESMOND: That’s a great question. So one of the things we struggle with in the lab is this question about coverage versus good enough data. This is getting in the weeds a little bit, but this is kind of a weedy question. When we first got these data we didn’t have it for the whole country. We decided to release it as fast as we can, and sometimes we had not great data but we still released it. We were like, here’s what it is. We tried to flag it if it were low counts. We don’t think this is right, but here it is.
In conversations, with organizers, people that are working on the ground on these issues a lot, you know, that decision comes with consequences. And one consequence is when you are trying to wave the flag and say there’s a bunch of evictions in New Orleans and if we come along and say evictions are “low”, even if we flag it, that can be burdensome and complicated for organizers. So Eviction Lab 2.0 is going to do away with that, and we’re using models to actually have national coverage for evictions everywhere, and we’re not going to have that problem anymore. The downside of that is to make those models work and to get everything right, it takes us a little longer. So we have the new data, and we expect to get it out the first three months of 2021 that’s a long-winded answer to say a “in a few months”.
KEVIN McDONALD No-no, I appreciate that. I see in the Q&A there’s a question that I think has some connection to this next question. I’m going to jump around on one of the questions I was going to ask. I was reviewing the results of a survey of Legal Aid and civil rights attorneys across 38 states, conducted by the National Housing Law Project, and the survey found, and speaks to the notion of invisible evictions. And the survey found that 91% of respondents reported illegal or invisible evictions in their area; 53% saw tenants illegally locked out of their homes by landlords and 18% said tenants face landlord threats and intimidation and other eviction threats. Is there anything that can be done about this whole notion of invisible evictions given these numbers are so much higher since roughly 10% of tenants had legal representation and you highlight the need for assistance in the housing courts.
MATTHEW DESMOND: Right. So I’m not going to give a hopeful response to this question because you know, this is an incredibly important thing to raise. When we surveyed renters in Milwaukee we found for every formal eviction that goes to the court there are two informal evictions that don’t, per the shadow of the law. I met a landlord. He’ll like pay you 200 bucks and let you use his van if you are out by Sunday. You know, if you’ve got to get evicted, that’s an okay eviction. I’ve met a landlord that will straight take your front door off. He will take your door off if you are behind.
I met another landlord who will short circuit the electricity on himself, call the inspector on himself, which causes building inspectors to remove a family. So there are 101 ways to displace a family. Some of those ways; like a landlord is at his wits end, just trying to get the family to move and some of those ways are nefarious and illegal and cruel hearted. What can you do about that?
The fact of the matter is, if you are facing eviction it’s almost always better to get informally evicted than formally evicted. In most places in the country, you’re not going to have a lawyer. Your day in court isn’t a day in court at all. It’s like an eviction processing plant. If you go to court, you’re going to get a formal eviction record, which can affect your housing options and credit. If I was a family facing eviction and my options are to leave now or leave in a month from now but have all these other legal ramifications… The thing that we can do about it is actually change the system.
And so, you know, instituting a right to an attorney in a city addresses informal evictions and a lot of people think that’s going to make evictions more costly so landlords are going to do that.
I don’t think so. I think if there’s a right in the city and people know that’s their right and they can act on that right, that actually does give them a day in court. That says let’s make this a formal process. There are other ways to make eviction court less antagonistic and solve…think of treating legal systems as actually systems of justice, not processing plants.
You go to community court in Cleveland or Red Hook/Brooklyn, there’s social workers in the courtroom, the judge asks you why you fell behind, not just did you fall behind. They try to address your issue in the court and try to get the landlord a little bit of money and try to keep you in the home and it’s a win-win. I think one way to address formal evictions is rethinking the whole formal court process.
KEVIN McDONALD: That’s a nice segue into this question in our Q&A section. It says here that landlords have such unfettered control over how much rent is charged. Can you comment on how we could change the system that allows realtors and landlords to set price and rent. That’s the first part of the question, and then the second part just says it seems that we need to rethink the system that takes advantage of people without money or power even in our town in Charlottesville there’s talk about affordable housing, but the wheels turn slowly and high-end development continues unabated. Would you write a book potentially looking at who owns the housing stock and how it affects evictions?
MATTHEW DESMOND: That seems like a three part question, as we academics say.
You know, one thing we’re doing in the Eviction Lab is really trying to understand who owns America. This is a hard question actually. If you look at eviction records or property records there’s a ton of corporate shells. There’s a lot of LLCs. I could own 1,000 units in Charlottesville under 500 different company names. I think getting to the bottom of things really matters.
Just like in medicine, how we’ve decided that precision medicine is the way to go, like what works for me might not work for you. We can tailor medicine to genomic makeups, we can think of social policy like that too. We’ve piloted this program in Boston and figured out the ten top people, not companies, evict like 15% of the city. So like yes, we need better housing and more affordable housing in Boston but like can we get these 10 guys in a room and be like you are costing the city, you are taxing the city unduly. I think you are really onto something. It’s not going to be a book. I think it’s going to be a web tool that anyone can use.
One way to think about property ownership in America and in rent charging is to ask, how much do landlords make? How much do they make? I think it’s actually a really important question to ask because a lot of times when we’re having this conversation, property owners will say, I’m barely making it. I’m barely holding on. And if you make me hire a lawyer to execute my evictions, I’m going to have to charge more rent to make ends meet.
That’s a legitimate concern.
So we’ve analyzed — there’s actually a national survey of landlords that the census does; and we’ve analyzed that data, and what we’ve found is the landlords that are barely making it are landlords in middle-class neighborhoods. They’re kind of putting capital in a building and hope that building appreciates.
Landlords in poor neighborhoods make more than landlords in middle-class neighborhoods, or even rich neighborhoods. They make double the profits and the reason is very simple. It’s cheaper to own in poor neighborhoods where property taxes are lower but rents are not that much cheaper. So in poor neighborhoods where most evictions are happening, where rent burden is highest, there does seem to be excessive profits. There does seem to be exploitation in the strict sense of the word. So what can we do about that?
So, I think there’s a lot of answers to that question. I want to share one quick story. For the past year and a half, I’vebeen spending time with a group, called United Renters for Justice, in Minneapolis. I just wrote their story in the New York Times magazine. What these tenants have done, they had a landlord that they claim was neglectful. Negligent about housing problems. You know? So they said let’s kind of lean on the city to get the landlords’ license revoked and they did. They said now sell the buildings back to us. These were like five major buildings in the City of Minneapolis, and the landlords were like okay that will be $7,000,000 and the tenants raised the money and bought the buildings and are making them co-operative buildings that are democratically controlled.
I think that model isn’t something we usually think about when it comes to federal housing policy, but the tenants dreamed big and they made it happen. And one of the things we can learn from them is to keep dreaming big and to ask how can we turn more housing into democratically controlled housing, housing that’s just for living and not for profit or wealth building.
KEVIN McDONALD: I heard that Colorado or Denver was also engaged in that kind of democratic process. I found that compelling. I think the more that we can engage in that across the nation, the better. Thank you for sharing that. We’re getting more questions. Let me jump to some of these questions right now. This next question says, can you comment on the effect of using property taxes to fund schools. It would seem that high income would correlate with expensive housing and that then begets better schools. Is there a fact that there’s a cycle that once living in poverty it becomes difficult to get out?
MATTHEW DESMOND: One of the privileges I’ve had since writing the book is to talk to a lot of different audiences about the book including audiences in Europe and overseas. It’s interesting, the reactions are different.
In America, when I tell a story like Arleen’s story, people are like that’s a sad story and in Europe, they are like this is a complete failure of the government. It’s like that. That’s the different reactions. And in Europe when you tell people that we fund our schools based on the property values in the neighborhood, they are like, how do you have a civilization? They think it’s the weirdest idea and inequality generating thing. I think they are right.
I think we can do different things. Like in Michigan, for example, there’s a regional tax structure so the property tax benefits are more evenly distributed across communities. I also think that it’s not a panacea just doing something like that. We have to confront how segregated by race and class our cities are and that’s a conversation I hope we can all have on a personal level, you know? Like really think like how do my tax benefits and the kids and the kind of school that my kids go to and the safety of my streets, how are they not just different than other people’s streets and schools but how are they connected and contribute to the fact that there are winners and losers in this country and there are losers because there are winners? I think that sometimes the poverty debate let’s everyone off the hook.
If we’re more conservative we might have a fear of poverty. “It’s about work. It’s about hard work. It’s about the opportunities. It’s about people don’t have the right skill set and maybe had choices.” But if we’re more liberal, we have a theory about poverty–”it’s about history, it’s about discrimination; it’s about social systems” and those two things literally are thought of as separate and have different theories but share this quality, one in five kids in America don’t have enough to eat and it’s no one’s fault.
It is someone’s fault and it’s not just predatory landlords’ fault. I think that one of the things that writing about landlords does is not only give us a view into a world we didn’t know. It’s a mirror for us to consider in our own lives.
KEVIN McDONALD: Thank you, Matt.
Matt, you’ve given us, you know, kind of the issues, you’ve noted the challenges in Virginia. I guess I’m curious as to what have other jurisdictions done well over the last couple of years that Virginia has not and that could potentially benefit from incorporating?
MATTHEW DESMOND: I do want to give a shout out to Virginia. You know, Virginia has invested deeply, more deeply in affordable housing than they did. In ranking cities by evictions kind of gets people’s attention and Virginia, especially the local media in Virginia, did such an incredible job pushing the eviction narrative. By our count there were about 60 stories in 2018 in Virginia. And the governor, even though he was dealing with other stuff at the time, passed the budget that included more serious money for affordable housing.
And so, has that made a difference? We don’t know yet. I don’t know yet. I’m sure people in the state but other cities have done a lot of different things. Some cities have figured out ways to raise revenue for affordable housing if the federal government is coming through. Like Seattle passed this housing levy asking homeowners to pay a little bit more so the city doesn’t become wildly unaffordable. Little cities have done that too like Lawrence, Kansas passed a sales tax to benefit folks struggling with housing affordability.
We talked about establishing rights to lower housing court costs, that seems to be something spreading across the country that really matters. And there’s smaller things and little things that we can do. There’s free things that we can do. I do think that this problem takes serious investment and money, but here’s one thing you can do tomorrow. You can require landlords to use their real name when evicting someone instead of a corporate name. That would allow cities to have accountability and transparency, who is doing most of the evictions in my city? That’s one thing you can do that’s free. You can think about eviction records.
You know, should I know if so-and-so got evicted seven years ago, should that be a disadvantage in their life? Places like California actually seal eviction records because eviction isn’t like court on tv where there’s two sides and one wins, the truth prevails. It’s not like that. It’s not an equal scale of justice. There’s a ton of things we can do in our court system that matters.
But like at end of the day, the affordable housing crisis is going to be solved by more affordable housing and we have to figure out ways to invest in affordable housing around our cities.
KEVIN McDONALD: Thank you, Matt. That’s a great segue into a question by the attendee offering what looks like will be a promising initiative. “And here in Virginia, we are preparing to launch a new eviction prevention and diversion pilot in the top five evicting localities. What data sets do you recommend we collect that would reveal the most useful information for preventing eviction in the future?”
MATTHEW DESMOND: So I’m so glad you are doing that. Please keep us abreast on your progress. Thank you so much for doing that and thank you so much for your work. You know, the Fair Housing Act covers evictions, and we almost didn’t think of the Fair Housing Act as covering access to housing. The front end, it covers the back end of housing. Data that can allow us to ask, well, are Black families getting disproportionately evicted? Are kids getting disproportionately evicted? That data could lead to FHA claims, and I think that would be incredibly powerful. And I’dlike to know just more about folks that are facing this problem.
One thing that we’re trying to go do is figure out how much people are getting evicted for. If someone is like, well, if mytenant owes like seven months away, what else can I do? Our question is always empirical, well, how often does this happen. And it turns out that is very rare that eviction is six months’ worth of rent. A third of evictions in the country are for less than a months’ worth of rent. In Virginia, in 2016 one in ten evictions were for less than $335.
How much will it cost to prevent an eviction? It turns out one in ten evictions can be prevented for less than $335. So thinking through the arrears question is important. So the bee in my bonnet, for the last 60 years, poverty research industrial complex has tried to understand poverty basically by studying poor people.
So if you ask me what explains eviction, I could quote data that suggests that race matters, gender matters, kids matter but people aren’t evicting themselves. Someone is doing the evicting. So I think we need data on property owners and we need to understand which property owners are renting to local families and evicting no one and which property owners are evicting everyone in the city?
I read Tommy Orange’s debut novel “There There” and there’s a scene in There There where guys were talking about suicide on Native American reservations, and he says it’s like these guys are jumping out of a burning building and we think the problem is they’re jumping. That’s how we study poverty and eviction. We focus a lot on the jumping. I want to know who lit that building on fire and who is warming their hands by it. Anything we can do to get more on those data, I would love that.
KEVIN McDONALD: Thank you, Matt. So Brian was excited to see President-elect Biden’s platform include making Section 8 housing vouchers an entitlement so that everyone who has income low enough to qualify automatically receives them. Beyond acknowledging, that getting things passed in Congress is hard. How excited should Brian be about that policy?
MATTHEW DESMOND: Very excited. The situation today is like millions and millions of families are desperate for rent relief, you know? And if you spend time with Arleen, you know, her life is complicated. Housing isn’t the only barrier to her living a full actualized life but I think if you ask what’s one thing we can do for you, she would say I would like not to pay 88% of my income on rent and that would be a game changer for a lot of people.
The situation today is so many people need this like anti-poverty medicine, this social mobility. Your kids get enough to eat. You can move into a better neighborhood, and you don’t have to move all the time. And your kids can go to the same school every year, this solution, “this pill” and we can deliver it through a voucher system and one of the reasons that I think we should be excited about this no matter what happens in Georgia is this is a solution that has wide bipartisan support. There is a bi-partisan bill now on the floor of the Senate and that expands vouchers by 500,000. That is sponsored by Republicans and Democrats. I think I’m excited about Biden’s plan too. This is a program that deserves more and needs more. But man, this would be a game changer. It really would.
KEVIN McDONALD: I’m excited as well. Question from viewer: “Have you ever looked at the relationship between criminal justice debt and evictions. to what extent may criminal justice debt lead to inability to pay for housing and result in evictions? And on the flip side, is there correlation between landlords refusing to rent to individuals with criminal justice debt? If that can be separated from refusing to rent to someone with a criminal record?” Jennifer is also interested in this question.
MATTHEW DESMOND: So we are just beginning to look at this question. I think that you are onto something because a lot of the work in the criminal justice field is about the deep end of the criminal justice pool– incarceration, sentencing. I think that as we see more work on the shallow end by people like Alex Harris, by Issa Kohler-Hausmann at Yale Law, you know, these little dings, these little fines and fees can set people back. If people are living a hair away from eviction, that would make a lot of sense.
You know my roommate in Milwaukee, in the rooming house, this often happened to him. He worked as a security guard like under the table for cash. And he’d ask me to keep his cash, like be his bank and so I did. I would store his money and then every couple months, something would happen. He’d get pulled over for a bum light, people would run his name. He’d have all this child support delinquencies and his bank would be gone. And so I think that you are right.
Mary Pattillo, the brilliant sociologist at Northwestern has looked into this. I haven’t specifically. We have looked into the relation between eviction and violent crime. We wanted to know if neighborhoods with more evictions have more crime. And you can imagine how that they would. You know, it makes us strangers. It prevents us from binding together as a community and making our neighborhood safe. And it turns out neighborhoods with more evictions do have more violent crimes. Even if you control for the amount of violent crime they have had historically.
I think it’s another piece of evidence about how eviction rips across our social fabric and has reverberations beyond the individual that’s experienced it.
KEVIN McDONALD: Absolutely. One more question here before providing some closing remarks and turning it back over. Could you talk a little bit about co-parenting by divorce or never married parents with kids going back and forth between houses and the pressure of having another parent looking at you while you are struggling can impact things. Did anyone in your book talk about those issues?
MATTHEW DESMOND: Sure, I mean that’s a very real life issue and when it comes to the housing debate, one way that that intersects is about women being at higher risk of being evicted; so why is that? If you are a single mom especially. Let’s say you have a couple that’s together and they split and the kids are mostly with mom. The dad can find a room in a rooming house, he can crash on someone’s couch. If you are a non-custodial dad, your housing is less expensive. But if you are a mom and have two or three kids, a lot of landlords are like you have to rent a two or three bedroom and so a lot of single moms are forced to over consume housing that they don’t need.
And so I think that that’s one reason why women are evicted at much higher rates than men. Another reason is kids themselves, they are not a shield for eviction. They are an accelerant to eviction. We did a survey in eviction court. We were trying to figure out: “Why do you get evicted but you don’t?” And the answer was, “If you live with kids evictions basically triple because kids cause their own unique headaches for property owners. So I think that family and gender come into this story in a way that has real material consequences and that’s why the face of this epidemic is moms with kids.
KEVIN McDONALD: I appreciate the high level of engagement. Sorry I wasn’t able to get to everyone’s questions. Matt, you concluded your book by acknowledging that there’s an enormous amount of pain and poverty in this rich land we call the United States, and by examining one city through the lens of housing, you’ve shown us how that the system that produces that pain and poverty is maintained, and I have to echo the review by Katha Pollitt in The Guardian, “I can’t remember when an ethnographic study so deepened my understanding of American life.” And frankly, Matt, neither can I and neither can so many others in attendance this evening.
So thank you for your time and all of the talents that you put into this book and the profound impact that it’s having on the lives of many jurisdictions, and hopefully changing what again again feels like a runaway train to something that ultimately will be pulled into the caboose sometime soon.
MATTHEW DESMOND: Thank you, Kevin. I really appreciate our time together.
JANE KULOW: Matt and Kevin, thank you both. It was an honor to present this information.
Purchase “Evicted” from the New Dominion Bookshop, and we’ve provided a link in the chat and provided links in chat about work that’s being done now in Virginia. And in the second part to this event in early January, Matt will meet with Virginia organizations in a community roundtable and work session.