‘Evicted’ selected for One Book, One U

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2017. Photo: Ava M Brillat/University of Miami Libraries
By Barbara Gutierrez

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2017. Photo: Ava M Brillat/University of Miami Libraries

‘Evicted’ selected for One Book, One U

By Barbara Gutierrez
The Pulitzer Prize-winning book studies eight poor families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads; it also integrates the landlord’s perspective. Harvard professor Matthew Desmond, the author, will join a discussion with the University of Miami community in February.

“Every year in this country, families are evicted from their homes not by the tens of thousands or even the hundreds of thousands but by the millions.”

That stunning fact was written by Harvard professor Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2017. The book is this year’s One Book, One U program selection.

“Evicted” is an ethnological study that follows eight poor families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as they struggle with the interminable task of keeping a roof over their heads.

The book highlights issues of poverty, racism, drug addiction, mental illness, government bureaucracy, and other factors that enforce a cycle of poverty on low-income tenants that keeps millions in a constant state of housing insecurity. Although evictions affect all people—white, Black, Latinos, the disabled, and others—it disproportionally affects Black women with children, said the author.

“ ‘Evicted’ is particularly timely,” said Miriam Lipsky, director of special projects in the Office of the Provost at the University of Miami. “Right now, with the COVID insecurity, we see that a lot of the government assistance and moratoriums are ending.” 

Lipsky was among the members of the selection committee—made up of University faculty and staff members and students—who chose the book because of its social relevance but were unaware that the government’s eviction moratorium would end.   

In September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposed a nationwide temporary federal moratorium in residential evictions as a way to stem the spread of COVID-19. The moratorium was extended through June 30, 2021.

Congress has approved nearly $50 billion to help people pay back-rent and avoid eviction. But while in some states and counties that has been working well, in many others the help has not reached the vast majority of renters who need it, according to an NPR report.

“The intention of the author is to make us aware the systems that are in place to help the homeless,” said Ava Brillat, program lead for information literacy and instructional design for Richter Library. “But unless you have engaged in these systems, it is hard to know them. He does a really good job of revealing all of these systems and how easy it is to slip through the cracks. It just takes one or two changes and all of a sudden you are homeless.”

To research the book, Desmond immersed himself in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee—living in a trailer park and as a resident of a rooming house in the inner city. He watched and participated in people’s everyday lives, attending church, funerals, and other activities with them. He also accompanied some to eviction court, homeless shelters, and abandoned houses.

But he also integrated the landlord’s perspective and spent time with them collecting rents, issuing eviction notices, and delivering food to some tenants. Although his work was in Milwaukee, the same conditions are faced by low-income tenants throughout the country, according to Desmond.

While doing his research, he learned that most low-income residents spend 70 percent of their monthly income on rent and utilities. Most do not have a financial safety net to help them with any illness, accident, or unexpected events.

“Eviction is not always a question of personal irresponsibility but inevitability,” Desmond told a group of readers at the bookstore Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C.

The One Book, One U program helps promote discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion in classrooms and workspaces throughout the University. Faculty members are encouraged to integrate the book into their curriculums, said Brillat.

Instructors interested in using the book in their classes can take part in a discussion reading group online. Two sessions will be offered: the first on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 5 p.m., and the second on Friday, Oct. 29, at 1 p.m. Instructors are asked to register for only one session, to allow as many participants as possible to join. Each session will feature a facilitated discussion and guidance on how to integrate the book into the classroom.

A website has been established that will list all the programming around the book.

Registration links for the instructor reading group will be available soon on both the website and the Instructor Guide. Free copies of the book can be ordered there.

Both Lipsky and Brillat believe that “Evicted” will resonate with many University students. 

“We have students that are very wealthy and others who have experienced housing and food insecurity throughout their lifetime,” said Lipsky.

To help those students who may be affected by food or housing insecurity, several resources are offered to them, according to the Division of Student Affairs. They include the following.

  • Student Government ECO Agency runs a food pantry located on the second floor of the University Center, in Room 2400L.
  • Housing and Residential Life compiles an off-campus housing guide and maintains a listing guide. The University Ombudsperson can help students to identify resources and find support if experiencing food and/or housing insecurity.

Lipsky said that she believes discussions on the topic of eviction and all the factors that surround it will be eye-opening to many.

“To the extent that this book can inform and educate those students who may not have experience with this topic, I think it will be particularly relevant,” she said.

Desmond is scheduled to visit the University to speak about his book on Feb. 15, 2022.