‘Evicted’ Author Offers Solutions to Problem
Princeton University Prof. Matthew Desmond gives speech here, criticizes state laws.
Scholar, author and sociologist Matthew Desmond doesn’t mince words when discussing the growing problem of evictions.
“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,” Desmond, a Princeton University professor, wrote in the closing statement of his 2016 book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.
Desmond delivered a keynote address Wednesday for an event, “Home and Hope: A Community Call to Action,” hosted by Jewish Family Services.
Throughout his talk, Desmond, who received his doctorate from the UW-Madison, peppered his discussion with various statistics about the state of evictions.
Case in point: one in five black women renters face eviction at some point in their lives, compared to one in 15 white women.
“I think that should trouble us,” Desmond said. “I think that should unsettle us.”
Desmond also shared various findings and provided some of the first-hand stories encapsulated in his two-year-old book. In general, he said one in eight renters is evicted at some point.
Throughout his hour-long talk before the group of several hundred attendees, Desmond also discussed the devastating impact on the persons who are suddenly forced to uproot their lives.
He took aim at a Wisconsin statute that makes eviction notices a matter of public record, which he said landlords and housing authorities can use punitively against renters.
“(Eviction) is a very stressful event,” Desmond said. “Without simple shelter, everything else starts to fall apart. The problems can become so entrenched and weigh us down.”
Desmond also touched on what he perceived as a vicious spiral with evictions and joblessness. The all-consuming nature of addressing housing needs, he said, can interfere with a person’s employment status — or efforts to seek out opportunities.
He also took aim at the stagnant condition of the minimum wage in Wisconsin, which he said does not reflect a person’s realistic needs to make ends meet.
“Work is no longer the solution to poverty,” he said. “I think that has to be recognized.”
Desmond acknowledged the issues surrounding eviction are complex, but called on attendees to work collaboratively toward finding meaningful solutions.
One proposal he favors is the expansion of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 voucher program.
“That would fundamentally change the nature of poverty in this country,” he said. “If you want to see real gratitude, be with a family who receives a housing voucher. It’s a game changer.”
He added, “A stable home … is a shot at getting a person in the right direction.”
Throughout the talk, he also implored attendees to explore whatever solutions — however small they might seem — to eradicate the complexity of the massive problem.
“We’re bleeding out,” Desmond said. “We need moral clarity on this issue.”
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