top of page

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Review

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Evicted focuses on families facing eviction. These individuals are reflective of the housing market across America, built on exploitation of low-income tenants.


Sociology, social justice


In Evicted, Princeton sociologist and MacArthur "Genius" Matthew Desmond follows eight families in Milwaukee as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Evicted transforms our understanding of poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving one of 21st-century America's most devastating problems. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.


The people Desmond follows struggle with mental illness, addiction, and abusive pasts. Desmond neither glorifies them as virtuous beings nor villanizees them as greedy, violent people. He writes of them as they are - damaged people in need of a stable situation.

While it is commonly accepted that poverty leads to eviction, Desmond reveals how the reverse is also true. The people he follows are haunted by past evictions, unable to gain secure housing due to their records. Having children only worsens their chances, as landlords are reluctant to accept families.

Victims of domestic violence are forced to endure their abuse. Calling the police only worsens the matter, as landlords will evict tenants for too many police calls. One family is evicted due to the police being called on the mother's son, who was in seventh grade and kicked his teacher.

While the Fair Housing Act makes discrimination based on race illegal, that doesn't stop landlords from trying. Desmond reveals how as a white man he is readily accepted into a home that people with identical income and records were denied, the only difference being that they were Black women.

Eviction court makes it all but impossible for tenants to defend themselves. Good lawyers are expensive, and tenants are forced between gaining precious money by working or attending a court hearing in which they have no resources to properly defend themselves.

Many low-income families spend over 80% of their income on rent, and an event such as the death of a sister requiring funeral expenses can ruin someone's chances at a home. Left without hope of ending the cycle, people turn to destructive tendencies, such as harsh parenting to prepare children for the life of struggle they will lead.

Some of the people followed manage to make it into stable housing; others did not. Desmond reveals the failures of treating drug addiction without treating homelessness, of allowing landlords to discriminate based on past evictions with no context, of anti-discrimination laws to truly prevent segregation.

Desmond shows how the right to housing is inextricably tied to the supposed American values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He proposes a universal voucher program as a potential solution, while acknowledging that different cities may need different policies, and each area must address its own specific problems when it comes to poverty.

The book is gut-wrenching and shows those who have the privilege not to face this reality the true depth of exploitation the rich carry out against the poor.

bottom of page