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Evicted

Poverty and Profit in the American City

Author Matthew Desmond On Tour
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Best Seller
Paperback
$18.99 US
5.15"W x 8"H x 0.95"D  
On sale Feb 28, 2017 | 448 Pages | 978-0-553-44745-3
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction | Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction | Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction | Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction Finalist | Shortlisted for The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction | Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review The Boston Globe • The Washington Post • NPR • Fortune San Francisco Chronicle Milwaukee Journal Sentinel St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Politico • Kirkus Reviews Library Journal • Chicago Public Library • Publishers Weekly Booklist • and others

Selected for common reading at:

East Carolina University
Eckerd College 
Feather River College 
Lorain County Community College
Michigan State University 
Montana State University
Portland Community College
Rutgers University–Camden
Saint Paul College
Southern Methodist University
Trinity University
University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work
University of Miami
University of Mississippi
University of Pittsburgh - Pitt Public Health 
University of Richmond  
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Virginia Commonwealth University

From Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America

"Sociology is at its best when it challenges our taken-for-granted assumptions, and Evicted does this well. It highlights the paradoxes of poverty so that we can see that for some people there are no good options. . . . [A] timely, relevant, and important book." --Symbolic Interaction

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stick up after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.
 
The fate of these families is in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former school teacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs the worst trailer park in the fourth poorest city in the country. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. 
 
Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending over half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.
 
Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation, while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

“An exhaustively researched, vividly realized and above all, unignorable book—after Evicted, it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing.”
—Jennifer Senior, New York Times

 

“A groundbreaking work… Desmond delivers a gripping, novelistic narrative… This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
 
“Evicted is astonishing—a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty. Taking us into some of America’s poorest neighborhoods, Desmond illustrates how eviction leads to a cascade of events, often triggered by something as simple as a child throwing a snowball at a car, that can trap families in a cycle of poverty for years. Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, Evicted is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country. I loved it.
—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
 
“This story is about one of the most basic human needs—a roof overhead—and yet Matthew Desmond has told it in sweeping, immersive, heartbreaking fashion. We enter the lives of both renters and landlords at shoulder height, experiencing their triumphs, struggles, cruelty, kindness, loss, and love. One hopes that Evicted will change public policy. It will certainly change how people respond to the world and those who inhabit it.”
—Jeff Hobbs, author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

“Matthew Desmond tells stories of people at their most vulnerable. The characters that populate this lyrical book, many of whom are women and children, are our true American heroes, showing great courage and mythic strength against forces that are much larger than the individual. Their stories are gripping and moving—tragic, too. It’s a wonder and a shame that here, in the most prosperous country in the world, a roof over one’s head can be elusive for so many.” 
—Jesmyn Ward, author of Men We Reaped and Salvage the Bones
 
“This is an extraordinary and crucial piece of work. Read it. Please, read it.”
—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
 
“Evicted is a striking account of a severe and rapidly developing form of economic hardship. Matthew Desmond’s riveting narrative of the experiences of families in Milwaukee embroiled in the process of eviction will not only shock general readers, but it will broaden the perspective of experts on urban poverty as well. Evicted is that rare book that both enlightens and serves as an urgent call for action.”
William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University, and author of When Work Disappears
 
“This sensitive, achingly beautiful ethnography should refocus our understanding of poverty in America on the simple challenge of keeping a roof over your head.”
—Robert D. Putnam, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard, and author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids
© Barron Bixler
Matthew Desmond is a professor of sociology at Princeton University. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2010 from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he joined the Harvard Society of Fellows as a Junior Fellow. He is the author of four books, including Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016), which won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Carnegie Medal, and PEN / John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. The principal investigator of The Eviction Lab, Desmond’s research focuses on poverty in America, city life, housing insecurity, public policy, racial inequality, and ethnography. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, and the William Julius Wilson Early Career Award. A contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, Desmond was listed in 2016 among the Politico 50, as one of “fifty people across the country who are most influencing the national political debate.” View titles by Matthew Desmond

The Business of Owning the City

Before the city yielded to winter, as cold and gray as a mechanic’s wrench, before Arleen convinced Sherrena Tarver to let her boys move into the Thirteenth Street duplex, the inner city was crackling with life. It was early September and Milwaukee was enjoying an Indian summer. Music rolled into the streets from car speakers as children played on the sidewalk or sold water bottles by the freeway entrance. Grandmothers watched from porch chairs as bare-chested black boys laughingly made their way to the basketball court.

Sherrena wound her way through the North Side, listening to R&B with her window down. Most middle-class Milwaukeeans zoomed past the inner city on the freeway. 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. Sherrena usually left her lipstick-red Camaro at home and visited tenants in a beige-and-brown 1993 Chevy Suburban with 22-inch rims. The Suburban belonged to Quentin, Sherrena’s husband, business partner, and property manager. He used a screwdriver to start it.

Some white Milwaukeeans still referred to the North Side as “the core,” as they did in the 1960s, and if they ventured into it, they saw street after street of sagging duplexes, fading murals, twenty-four-hour day cares, and corner stores with wic accepted here signs. Once America’s eleventh-largest city, Milwaukee’s population had fallen below 600,000, down from over 740,000 in 1960. It showed. Abandoned properties and weedy lots where houses once stood dotted the North Side. A typical residential street had a few single-family homes owned by older folks who tended gardens and hung American flags, more duplexes or four-family apartment buildings with chipping paint and bedsheet curtains rented to struggling families, and vacant plots and empty houses with boards drilled over their doors and windows.

Sherrena saw all this, but she saw something else too. Like other seasoned landlords, she knew who owned which multifamily, which church, which bar, which street; knew its different vicissitudes of life, its shades and moods; knew which blocks were hot and drug-soaked and which were stable and quiet. She knew the ghetto’s value and how money could be made from a property that looked worthless to people who didn’t know any better.

Petite with chestnut skin, Sherrena wore a lightweight red-and-blue jacket that matched her pants, which matched her off-kilter NBA cap. She liked to laugh, a full, open-mouthed hoot, sometimes catching your shoulder as if to keep from falling. But as she turned off North Avenue on her way to pay a visit to tenants who lived near the intersection of Eighteenth and Wright Streets, she slowed down and let out a heavy sigh. Evictions were a regular part of the business, but Lamar didn’t have any legs. Sherrena was not looking forward to evicting a man without legs.

When Lamar first fell behind, Sherrena didn’t reach automatically for the eviction notice or shrug it off with a bromide about business being business. She hemmed and hawed. “I’m gonna have a hard time doing this,” she told Quentin when she could no longer ignore it. “You know that, don’t you?” Sherrena frowned.

Quentin stayed quiet and let his wife say it.

“It’s only fair,” Sherrena offered after a few silent moments of deliberation. “I feel bad for the kids. Lamar’s got them little boys in there. . . . And I love Lamar. But love don’t pay the bills.”

Sherrena had a lot of bills: mortgage payments, water charges, maintenance expenses, property taxes. Sometimes a major expense would come out of nowhere—a broken furnace, an unexpected bill from the city—and leave her close to broke until the first of the month.

“We don’t have the time to wait,” Quentin said. “While we waiting on his payment, the taxes are going up. The mortgage payment is going up.”

There was no hedging in this business. When a tenant didn’t pay $500, her landlord lost $500. When that happened, landlords with mortgages dug into their savings or their income to make sure the bank didn’t hand them a foreclosure notice. There were no euphemisms either: no “downsizing,” no “quarterly losses.” Landlords took the gains and losses directly; they saw the deprivation and waste up close. Old-timers liked recalling their first big loss, their initial breaking-in: the time a tenant tore down her own ceiling, took pictures, and convinced the court commissioner it was the landlord’s fault; the time an evicted couple stuffed socks down the sinks and turned the water on full-blast before moving out. Rookie landlords hardened or quit.

Sherrena nodded reassuringly and said, almost to herself, “I guess I got to stop feeling sorry for these people because nobody is feeling sorry for me. Last time I checked, the mortgage company still wanted their money.” 

Sherrena and Quentin had met years ago, on Fond Du Lac Avenue. Quentin pulled up beside Sherrena at a red light. She had a gorgeous smile and her car stereo was turned up. He asked her to pull over. Sherrena remembered Quentin being in a Daytona, but he insisted it was the Regal. “I ain’t trying to pull nobody over in the Daytona,” he’d say, feigning offense. Quentin was well manicured, built but not muscular, with curly hair and lots of jewelry—

a thick chain, a thicker bracelet, rings. Sherrena thought he looked like a dope dealer but gave him her real number anyway. Quentin called Sherrena for three months before she agreed to let him take her out for ice cream. It took him another six years to marry her.

When Quentin pulled Sherrena over, she was a fourth-grade teacher. She talked like a teacher, calling strangers “honey” and offering motherly advice or chiding. “You know I’m fixing to fuss at you,” she would say. If she sensed your attention starting to drift, she would touch your elbow or thigh to pull you back in.

Four years after meeting Quentin, Sherrena was happy with their relationship but bored at work. After eight years in the classroom, she quit and opened a day care. But “they shut it down on a tiny technicality,” she remembered. So she went back to teaching. After her son from an earlier relationship started acting out, she began homeschooling him and tried her hand at real estate. When people asked, “Why real estate?” Sherrena would reply with some talk about “long-term residuals” or “property being the best investment out there.” But there was more to it. Sherrena shared something with other landlords: an unbending confidence that she could make it on her own without a school or a company to fall back on, without a contract or a pension or a union. She had an understanding with the universe that she could strike out into nothing and through her own gumption and intelligence come back with a good living.

Sherrena had bought a home in 1999, when prices were low. Riding the housing boom a few years later, she refinanced and pulled out $21,000 in equity. Six months later, she refinanced again, this time pulling $12,000. She used the cash to buy her first rental property: a two-unit duplex in the inner city, where housing was cheapest. Rental profits, refinancing, and private real-estate investors offering high-interest loans helped her buy more.

She learned that the rental population comprised some upper- and middle-class households who rent out of preference or circumstance, some young and transient people, and most of the city’s poor, who were excluded both from homeownership and public housing. Landlords operated in different neighborhoods, typically clustering their properties in a concentrated area. In the segregated city, this meant that landlords focused on housing certain kinds of people: white ones or black ones, poor families or college students. Sherrena decided to specialize in renting to the black poor.

Four years later, she owned thirty-six units, all in the inner city, and took to carrying a pair of cell phones with backup batteries, reading Forbes, renting office space, and accepting appointments from nine a.m. to nine p.m. Quentin quit his job and started working as Sherrena’s property manager and buying buildings of his own. Sherrena started a credit-repair business and an investment business. She purchased two fifteen-passenger vans and started Prisoner Connections LLC, which for $25 to $50 a seat transported girlfriends and mothers and children to visit their incarcerated loved ones upstate. Sherrena had found her calling: inner-city entrepreneur.

First-Year Reading (FYR) Guide for Evicted

Designed specifically to be used by faculty or program facilitators for college First-Year Common Reading programs.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Discussion Guide for Evicted

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

  • WINNER | 2018
    Order of the Coif Biennial Book Award
  • WINNER | 2018
    Stowe Prize
  • WINNER | 2017
    PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
  • WINNER | 2017
    PEN New England Award
  • WINNER | 2017
    Pulitzer Prize (Non-Fiction)
  • WINNER | 2017
    American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award
  • WINNER | 2017
    Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
  • WINNER | 2017
    Sidney Hillman Prize
  • WINNER | 2017
    Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize
  • WINNER | 2017
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
  • WINNER | 2017
    Eastern Sociological Society, Komarovsky Book Award
  • WINNER | 2016
    National Book Critics Circle Awards
  • WINNER | 2016
    Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award
  • WINNER | 2015
    MacArthur 'Genius' Award
  • FINALIST | 2016
    Society for the Study of Social Problems, C. Wright Mills Award
  • SHORTLIST | 2016
    800-CEO-READ Business Book Award
  • FINALIST | 2016
    Kirkus Prize for Non-Fiction
  • FINALIST | 2016
    Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  • AWARD | 2015
    MacArthur 'Genius' Award
“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

“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.”—Bill Gates

“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

“It doesn't happen every week (or every month, or even year), but every once in a while a book comes along that changes the national conversation. . . . Evicted looks to be one of those books.”—Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review

“Should be required reading in an election year, or any other.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Powerful, monstrously effective . . . The power of this book abides in the indelible impression left by its stories.”—Jill Leovy, The American Scholar

“Gripping and important . . . [Desmond's] portraits are vivid and unsettling.”—Jason DeParle, New York Review of Books

“An exquisitely crafted, meticulously researched exploration of life on the margins, providing a voice to people who have been shamefully ignored—or, worse, demonized—by opinion makers over the course of decades.”—The Boston Globe

“[An] impressive work of scholarship . . . As Mr. Desmond points out, eviction has been neglected by urban sociologists, so his account fills a gap. His methodology is scrupulous.”Wall Street Journal

How housing is ignored in the poverty discussion | Author Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond (author of Evicted) | What I'm Reading

Book Trailer

About

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction | Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction | Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction | Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction Finalist | Shortlisted for The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction | Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review The Boston Globe • The Washington Post • NPR • Fortune San Francisco Chronicle Milwaukee Journal Sentinel St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Politico • Kirkus Reviews Library Journal • Chicago Public Library • Publishers Weekly Booklist • and others

Selected for common reading at:

East Carolina University
Eckerd College 
Feather River College 
Lorain County Community College
Michigan State University 
Montana State University
Portland Community College
Rutgers University–Camden
Saint Paul College
Southern Methodist University
Trinity University
University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work
University of Miami
University of Mississippi
University of Pittsburgh - Pitt Public Health 
University of Richmond  
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Virginia Commonwealth University

From Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America

"Sociology is at its best when it challenges our taken-for-granted assumptions, and Evicted does this well. It highlights the paradoxes of poverty so that we can see that for some people there are no good options. . . . [A] timely, relevant, and important book." --Symbolic Interaction

In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stick up after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind.
 
The fate of these families is in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former school teacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs the worst trailer park in the fourth poorest city in the country. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. 
 
Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending over half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality—and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship.
 
Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation, while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

“An exhaustively researched, vividly realized and above all, unignorable book—after Evicted, it will no longer be possible to have a serious discussion about poverty without having a serious discussion about housing.”
—Jennifer Senior, New York Times

 

“A groundbreaking work… Desmond delivers a gripping, novelistic narrative… This stunning, remarkable book—a scholar’s 21st-century How the Other Half Lives—demands a wide audience.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
 
“Evicted is astonishing—a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty. Taking us into some of America’s poorest neighborhoods, Desmond illustrates how eviction leads to a cascade of events, often triggered by something as simple as a child throwing a snowball at a car, that can trap families in a cycle of poverty for years. Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, Evicted is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country. I loved it.
—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
 
“This story is about one of the most basic human needs—a roof overhead—and yet Matthew Desmond has told it in sweeping, immersive, heartbreaking fashion. We enter the lives of both renters and landlords at shoulder height, experiencing their triumphs, struggles, cruelty, kindness, loss, and love. One hopes that Evicted will change public policy. It will certainly change how people respond to the world and those who inhabit it.”
—Jeff Hobbs, author of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

“Matthew Desmond tells stories of people at their most vulnerable. The characters that populate this lyrical book, many of whom are women and children, are our true American heroes, showing great courage and mythic strength against forces that are much larger than the individual. Their stories are gripping and moving—tragic, too. It’s a wonder and a shame that here, in the most prosperous country in the world, a roof over one’s head can be elusive for so many.” 
—Jesmyn Ward, author of Men We Reaped and Salvage the Bones
 
“This is an extraordinary and crucial piece of work. Read it. Please, read it.”
—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, author of Random Family
 
“Evicted is a striking account of a severe and rapidly developing form of economic hardship. Matthew Desmond’s riveting narrative of the experiences of families in Milwaukee embroiled in the process of eviction will not only shock general readers, but it will broaden the perspective of experts on urban poverty as well. Evicted is that rare book that both enlightens and serves as an urgent call for action.”
William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University, and author of When Work Disappears
 
“This sensitive, achingly beautiful ethnography should refocus our understanding of poverty in America on the simple challenge of keeping a roof over your head.”
—Robert D. Putnam, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard, and author of Bowling Alone and Our Kids

Author

© Barron Bixler
Matthew Desmond is a professor of sociology at Princeton University. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2010 from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he joined the Harvard Society of Fellows as a Junior Fellow. He is the author of four books, including Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016), which won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Carnegie Medal, and PEN / John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. The principal investigator of The Eviction Lab, Desmond’s research focuses on poverty in America, city life, housing insecurity, public policy, racial inequality, and ethnography. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, and the William Julius Wilson Early Career Award. A contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, Desmond was listed in 2016 among the Politico 50, as one of “fifty people across the country who are most influencing the national political debate.” View titles by Matthew Desmond

Excerpt

The Business of Owning the City

Before the city yielded to winter, as cold and gray as a mechanic’s wrench, before Arleen convinced Sherrena Tarver to let her boys move into the Thirteenth Street duplex, the inner city was crackling with life. It was early September and Milwaukee was enjoying an Indian summer. Music rolled into the streets from car speakers as children played on the sidewalk or sold water bottles by the freeway entrance. Grandmothers watched from porch chairs as bare-chested black boys laughingly made their way to the basketball court.

Sherrena wound her way through the North Side, listening to R&B with her window down. Most middle-class Milwaukeeans zoomed past the inner city on the freeway. 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. Sherrena usually left her lipstick-red Camaro at home and visited tenants in a beige-and-brown 1993 Chevy Suburban with 22-inch rims. The Suburban belonged to Quentin, Sherrena’s husband, business partner, and property manager. He used a screwdriver to start it.

Some white Milwaukeeans still referred to the North Side as “the core,” as they did in the 1960s, and if they ventured into it, they saw street after street of sagging duplexes, fading murals, twenty-four-hour day cares, and corner stores with wic accepted here signs. Once America’s eleventh-largest city, Milwaukee’s population had fallen below 600,000, down from over 740,000 in 1960. It showed. Abandoned properties and weedy lots where houses once stood dotted the North Side. A typical residential street had a few single-family homes owned by older folks who tended gardens and hung American flags, more duplexes or four-family apartment buildings with chipping paint and bedsheet curtains rented to struggling families, and vacant plots and empty houses with boards drilled over their doors and windows.

Sherrena saw all this, but she saw something else too. Like other seasoned landlords, she knew who owned which multifamily, which church, which bar, which street; knew its different vicissitudes of life, its shades and moods; knew which blocks were hot and drug-soaked and which were stable and quiet. She knew the ghetto’s value and how money could be made from a property that looked worthless to people who didn’t know any better.

Petite with chestnut skin, Sherrena wore a lightweight red-and-blue jacket that matched her pants, which matched her off-kilter NBA cap. She liked to laugh, a full, open-mouthed hoot, sometimes catching your shoulder as if to keep from falling. But as she turned off North Avenue on her way to pay a visit to tenants who lived near the intersection of Eighteenth and Wright Streets, she slowed down and let out a heavy sigh. Evictions were a regular part of the business, but Lamar didn’t have any legs. Sherrena was not looking forward to evicting a man without legs.

When Lamar first fell behind, Sherrena didn’t reach automatically for the eviction notice or shrug it off with a bromide about business being business. She hemmed and hawed. “I’m gonna have a hard time doing this,” she told Quentin when she could no longer ignore it. “You know that, don’t you?” Sherrena frowned.

Quentin stayed quiet and let his wife say it.

“It’s only fair,” Sherrena offered after a few silent moments of deliberation. “I feel bad for the kids. Lamar’s got them little boys in there. . . . And I love Lamar. But love don’t pay the bills.”

Sherrena had a lot of bills: mortgage payments, water charges, maintenance expenses, property taxes. Sometimes a major expense would come out of nowhere—a broken furnace, an unexpected bill from the city—and leave her close to broke until the first of the month.

“We don’t have the time to wait,” Quentin said. “While we waiting on his payment, the taxes are going up. The mortgage payment is going up.”

There was no hedging in this business. When a tenant didn’t pay $500, her landlord lost $500. When that happened, landlords with mortgages dug into their savings or their income to make sure the bank didn’t hand them a foreclosure notice. There were no euphemisms either: no “downsizing,” no “quarterly losses.” Landlords took the gains and losses directly; they saw the deprivation and waste up close. Old-timers liked recalling their first big loss, their initial breaking-in: the time a tenant tore down her own ceiling, took pictures, and convinced the court commissioner it was the landlord’s fault; the time an evicted couple stuffed socks down the sinks and turned the water on full-blast before moving out. Rookie landlords hardened or quit.

Sherrena nodded reassuringly and said, almost to herself, “I guess I got to stop feeling sorry for these people because nobody is feeling sorry for me. Last time I checked, the mortgage company still wanted their money.” 

Sherrena and Quentin had met years ago, on Fond Du Lac Avenue. Quentin pulled up beside Sherrena at a red light. She had a gorgeous smile and her car stereo was turned up. He asked her to pull over. Sherrena remembered Quentin being in a Daytona, but he insisted it was the Regal. “I ain’t trying to pull nobody over in the Daytona,” he’d say, feigning offense. Quentin was well manicured, built but not muscular, with curly hair and lots of jewelry—

a thick chain, a thicker bracelet, rings. Sherrena thought he looked like a dope dealer but gave him her real number anyway. Quentin called Sherrena for three months before she agreed to let him take her out for ice cream. It took him another six years to marry her.

When Quentin pulled Sherrena over, she was a fourth-grade teacher. She talked like a teacher, calling strangers “honey” and offering motherly advice or chiding. “You know I’m fixing to fuss at you,” she would say. If she sensed your attention starting to drift, she would touch your elbow or thigh to pull you back in.

Four years after meeting Quentin, Sherrena was happy with their relationship but bored at work. After eight years in the classroom, she quit and opened a day care. But “they shut it down on a tiny technicality,” she remembered. So she went back to teaching. After her son from an earlier relationship started acting out, she began homeschooling him and tried her hand at real estate. When people asked, “Why real estate?” Sherrena would reply with some talk about “long-term residuals” or “property being the best investment out there.” But there was more to it. Sherrena shared something with other landlords: an unbending confidence that she could make it on her own without a school or a company to fall back on, without a contract or a pension or a union. She had an understanding with the universe that she could strike out into nothing and through her own gumption and intelligence come back with a good living.

Sherrena had bought a home in 1999, when prices were low. Riding the housing boom a few years later, she refinanced and pulled out $21,000 in equity. Six months later, she refinanced again, this time pulling $12,000. She used the cash to buy her first rental property: a two-unit duplex in the inner city, where housing was cheapest. Rental profits, refinancing, and private real-estate investors offering high-interest loans helped her buy more.

She learned that the rental population comprised some upper- and middle-class households who rent out of preference or circumstance, some young and transient people, and most of the city’s poor, who were excluded both from homeownership and public housing. Landlords operated in different neighborhoods, typically clustering their properties in a concentrated area. In the segregated city, this meant that landlords focused on housing certain kinds of people: white ones or black ones, poor families or college students. Sherrena decided to specialize in renting to the black poor.

Four years later, she owned thirty-six units, all in the inner city, and took to carrying a pair of cell phones with backup batteries, reading Forbes, renting office space, and accepting appointments from nine a.m. to nine p.m. Quentin quit his job and started working as Sherrena’s property manager and buying buildings of his own. Sherrena started a credit-repair business and an investment business. She purchased two fifteen-passenger vans and started Prisoner Connections LLC, which for $25 to $50 a seat transported girlfriends and mothers and children to visit their incarcerated loved ones upstate. Sherrena had found her calling: inner-city entrepreneur.

Guides

First-Year Reading (FYR) Guide for Evicted

Designed specifically to be used by faculty or program facilitators for college First-Year Common Reading programs.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Discussion Guide for Evicted

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Awards

  • WINNER | 2018
    Order of the Coif Biennial Book Award
  • WINNER | 2018
    Stowe Prize
  • WINNER | 2017
    PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
  • WINNER | 2017
    PEN New England Award
  • WINNER | 2017
    Pulitzer Prize (Non-Fiction)
  • WINNER | 2017
    American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award
  • WINNER | 2017
    Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
  • WINNER | 2017
    Sidney Hillman Prize
  • WINNER | 2017
    Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize
  • WINNER | 2017
    Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
  • WINNER | 2017
    Eastern Sociological Society, Komarovsky Book Award
  • WINNER | 2016
    National Book Critics Circle Awards
  • WINNER | 2016
    Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award
  • WINNER | 2015
    MacArthur 'Genius' Award
  • FINALIST | 2016
    Society for the Study of Social Problems, C. Wright Mills Award
  • SHORTLIST | 2016
    800-CEO-READ Business Book Award
  • FINALIST | 2016
    Kirkus Prize for Non-Fiction
  • FINALIST | 2016
    Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  • AWARD | 2015
    MacArthur 'Genius' Award

Praise

“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

“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.”—Bill Gates

“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

“It doesn't happen every week (or every month, or even year), but every once in a while a book comes along that changes the national conversation. . . . Evicted looks to be one of those books.”—Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review

“Should be required reading in an election year, or any other.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Powerful, monstrously effective . . . The power of this book abides in the indelible impression left by its stories.”—Jill Leovy, The American Scholar

“Gripping and important . . . [Desmond's] portraits are vivid and unsettling.”—Jason DeParle, New York Review of Books

“An exquisitely crafted, meticulously researched exploration of life on the margins, providing a voice to people who have been shamefully ignored—or, worse, demonized—by opinion makers over the course of decades.”—The Boston Globe

“[An] impressive work of scholarship . . . As Mr. Desmond points out, eviction has been neglected by urban sociologists, so his account fills a gap. His methodology is scrupulous.”Wall Street Journal

Media

How housing is ignored in the poverty discussion | Author Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond (author of Evicted) | What I'm Reading

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