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2017 Archives

SMU Reads: How eviction became the core of American poverty

In partnership with The Dallas Morning News

Excerpt

The following is from the July 7, 2017, edition of The Dallas Morning NewsEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is this fall's SMU Reads selection, which every incoming SMU student is expected to read. There will be small-group discussions on the book and author Matthew Desmond will speak at SMU on Aug. 24.

From The Dallas Morning News

Common Reading discussion
An SMU Reads discussion

By Nicole Stockdale
Deputy Editorial Page Editor

We cannot talk about poverty in this nation without coming to grips with how utterly broken our housing system is for America's poor. More than 50 percent of poor families in the U.S. spend at least half their income on housing. Of the families who qualify for housing assistance, only 1 on 4 receives it. Is it any wonder, then, that they struggle to keep roofs over their heads or food on their tables -- let alone find a path to the middle class?

In Evicted, Matthew Desmond tells the story of eight families being ground down by poverty. Do you take your kids to a homeless shelter or move them to a shack with no running water? Do you report domestic violence, even though it could get you evicted? Do you pay for your sister's funeral or your rent?

The events Desmond chronicles took place in Milwaukee, but these are also the stories of Dallas and every other big city in America. And they will change how you look at poverty: The book is so emotionally piercing, I forced myself to put it down at times, even as I shared details with anyone who'd listen.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is our selection for the 11th annual Points Summer Book Club. This year, we're partnering with Southern Methodist University's SMU Reads program, which has asked all incoming freshman to read the book and invited the community to participate, as well. I hope you'll join us: Take part in The Dallas Morning News' online discussion Aug. 21-25. Attend a forum with the author at SMU on Aug. 24. Start reading the book now.

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July 10, 2017

By Matthew Desmond
Contributor

Jori and his cousin were cutting up, tossing snowballs at passing cars. From Jori's street corner on Milwaukee's near South Side, cars driving on Sixth Street passed squat duplexes with porch steps ending at a sidewalk edged in dandelions. Those heading north approached the Basilica of St. Josaphat, whose crowning dome looked to Jori like a giant overturned plunger.

It was January 2008, and the city was experiencing the snowiest winter on record. Every so often, a car turned off Sixth Street to navigate Arthur Avenue, hemmed in by the snow, and that's when the boys would take aim. Jori packed a tight one and let it fly. The car jerked to a stop, and a man jumped out. The boys ran inside and locked the door to the apartment where Jori lived with his mother, Arleen, and younger brother, Jafaris.

The lock was cheap, and the man broke down the door with a few hard-heeled kicks. He left before anything else happened. When the landlord found out about the door, she decided to evict Arleen and her boys. They had been there eight months.

The day Arleen and her boys had to be out was cold. But if she waited any longer, the landlord would summon the sheriff, who would arrive with a gun, a team of boot-footed movers, and a judge's order saying that her house was no longer hers. She would be given two options: truck or curb. "Truck" would mean that her things would be loaded into an eighteen-footer and later checked into bonded storage. She could get everything back after paying $350.

Arleen didn't have $350, so she would have opted for "curb," which would mean watching the movers pile everything onto the sidewalk. Her mattresses. A floor-model television. Her copy of Don't Be Afraid to Discipline. Her nice glass dining table and the lace tablecloth that fit just-so. Silk plants. Bibles. The meat cuts in the freezer. The shower curtain. Jafaris's asthma machine.

Arleen took her sons — Jori was 13, Jafaris was 5 — to a homeless shelter, which everyone called the Lodge so you could tell your kids, "We're staying at the Lodge tonight," like it was a motel. The two-story stucco building could have passed for one, except for all the Salvation Army signs.

Arleen stayed in the 120-bed shelter until April, when she found a house on Nineteenth and Hampton, in the predominantly black inner city, on Milwaukee's North Side, not far from her childhood home. It had thick trim around the windows and doors and was once Kendal green, but the paint had faded and chipped so much over the years that the bare wood siding was now exposed, making the house look camouflaged. At one point someone had started repainting the house plain white but had given up mid-brushstroke, leaving more than half unfinished. There was often no water in the house, and Jori had to bucket out what was in the toilet. But Arleen loved that it was spacious and set apart from other houses.

Read the full essay.