Each year the Pulitzer Prize committee reads through some of the best fiction and nonfiction work by America’s top writers and journalists.
From Colson Whitehead’s novel “The Underground Railroad” to the joint-journalism project, the “Panama Papers,” this year’s Pulitzer class brought their A-game.
But for those who follow global poverty issues, there was one clear winner: Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted.”
Written by a Harvard sociologist who spent one year living in the substandard housing conditions many Americans face on a daily basis, “Evicted” follows eight people whose lives have been uprooted, time and time again, by the housing market in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In the United States, Desmond has argued, eviction, is “not just a consequence of poverty, but a cause of poverty.” For many families, rent can eat up more than 80% of discretionary income, causing them to fall behind on payments, rack up debt, and even lose their jobs and health insurance.
Worst affected are single mothers, people of color, and people with disabilities.
“Poor black men were locked up,” Desmond writes. “Poor black women were locked out.”
Not only do evictions hold back single mothers and communities of color, but they can exacerbate social problems like domestic violence. Around one in 10 Americans who are evicted are victims of domestic violence, and in some cases, women who are suffering domestic abuse are afraid to call authorities to report it for fear of eviction.
Despite the bubble that burst in 2007, lack of access to affordable housing is a problem that has affected people living in poverty for quite some time. The website FiveThirtyEight has reported: “The share of poor families that devote more than half of their income to housing costs has risen by 10 percentage points since 1991.”
In Milwaukee, where roughly two in five residents are black, preferential renting to white families compounds this problem. When people of color are systematically discriminated against, they end up living in pockets of concentrated poverty, with little access to educational and other resources.
Concentrated poverty in the United States, or the proportion of neighborhoods where more than 50% of people live below the poverty line, nearly doubled between 2000 and 2013, according to CityLab.
The housing market, Desmond’s book shows, is an element that adds to concentrated poverty but is often overlooked.
Desmond’s proposed solution to this problem is not unreasonable. It is a short-term investment that would have long-term benefits: expanding existing housing vouchers.
If federal, state, and local governments earmark funds to provide housing subsidies to those living in poverty, those citizens would be better equipped to get an education and move into the middle class.
For poor people, something as simple as a stable housing could mean the difference between multi-generational poverty and living the American dream. Desmond’s book makes a strong case for finding a solution sooner rather than later.