The Housing Crisis and Insecurity and Poverty in America Term Paper

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Matthew Desmond addresses the intersection between race, class, and gender in Evicted. The case studies Desmond uses take place in Wisconsin, which serves effectively as a microcosm for the United States. While the overarching issues Desmond discusses can be one of the book’s main draws, it is the details in each of the stories that compels readers to take action or learn more about issues like institutionalized poverty, institutionalized racism, the perpetuation of the housing crisis, and systematic economic exploitation. The people Desmond profiles lack the power to stimulate change, and yet through collective action and self-empowerment it becomes possible to foresee policy change or at least normative changes in addressing the needs of the poor.

As the title suggests, Evicted focuses on the causes and ramifications of both legal and quasi-legal evictions that take place with alarming frequency. By conducting field research separately in predominantly white and predominantly black neighborhoods, Desmond also shows how race factors into the causes and effects of poverty and housing insecurity. Housing insecurity affects each person and their family differently, but ultimately does cause tangible problems linked to instability and fear. Discrimination and segregation compound the problems that African American families face. While technically discrimination is illegal, race-based decisions on housing still exist and few have the resources—time, energy, or money—to turn to litigation when their next bed and meal remains an uncertainty. Bias certainly exists, though, as Desmond demonstrates with quantitative data showing that white landlords are more likely to rent to white tenants than black or Hispanic ones, even when other variables are controlled for (346). Race-based segregation also prevents solidarity among the poor—the type of solidarity that could facilitate policy and legislative changes.

All of the individuals Desmond profiles use coping mechanisms to subvert or undermine their condition and status in society. Even when those coping mechanisms do not actually work in bringing about real change or self-empowerment, they do allow for psychological resilience or social networking. Lying is a common coping tactic, used to influence landlords (Desmond 3). Many of the single moms also need to lie to their children in order to protect them from the harsh realities of the world, or to insulate them from fear, anxiety, and pain. A few actually hide their children from landlords, who prefer not to rent to single mothers (Desmond 26). Some people effectively subvert the system in other ways, such as by “stealing electricity (Desmond 66). Tenants can sometimes pay off part of their rent via under-the-table work for landlords, a process that provides landlords with easy access to cheap or free labor while helping the tenant avoid eviction (Desmond 135). Those who have state or federal assistance like food stamps can manipulate or stretch the ways these meager resources are spent.

All of the people need to stretch their meager resources, using the majority of their income to pay their rent while figuring out creative ways to circumvent starvation or unsafe, unsanitary living conditions. Some of the individuals self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, and others suffer grave psychological and physical illnesses due to their circumstances. Many do not cope well, while others seem to have a sense of humor and hope that transcends their suffering.

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Because of the stressors associated with asking family members or friends for support—and because those traditional means of social support are often unavailable—some of the people turn to strangers and other “disposable ties,” (Desmond 163). Networking with disposable ties prevents the erosion of pride and family ties, but prevents the self-reliance, self-efficacy, and empowerment that would more meaningfully help people in positions in which they may be evicted. Desmond also shows how while the poor often help each other, relying on disposable ties can open up vulnerable members of society to abuse.

Abuse, domestic violence, and other issues are prevalent among the poor because these types of behaviors can be viewed as coping mechanisms. The women profiled in Evicted often hide their experiences with domestic violence because making an official police report would lead to unwanted attention by the landlord and a probable eviction (Desmond 189). Coping strategies reflect gender and race-based social norms, as women are more prone to being evicted, or allowing themselves to remain victims of abuse instead of changing their circumstances due to financial instability and the lack of support systems. Women like Crystal turn to prostitution as a financial coping mechanism and a means by which to achieve a semblance of financial independence (Desmond 268). Many men, on the other hand, act out in ways that lead to criminal charges, and black men in particular are more likely to be branded as criminals rather than address the root causes of criminal behavior. Therefore, the coping mechanisms used to mitigate the deeply damaging problems of systemic poverty are complex and interconnected. Hopelessness and despair are social and psychological precursors to antisocial and violent behaviors: a sense that nothing matters and nothing works.

Some people simply lower their expectations gradually, until they tolerate intolerable living conditions. As living conditions deteriorate, the person also learns from experience that complaining to the landlord leads to potentially disastrous consequences. Getting on the landlord’s bad side could lead to sudden evictions at short notice and the inability to find a future home. Because an eviction can lead to impaired ability to make it to a job on time, housing instability exacerbates an already challenging time finding viable work. Being unskilled or under-educated could be solved with adequate access to pathways of personal improvement and professional development, but these opportunities rarely if ever exist. Not only are the poor considered write-offs, beyond help or unwilling to improve themselves, their status in the society serves a definite purpose. The landlords and property owners capitalize on the poor and the system enforces their rights to do so. Most of the poor lack any effective coping mechanisms, instead succumbing to disillusionment, cynicism, fear, and depression.

Desmond continually demonstrates the ways structural inequalities and public policy compounds poverty, making it nearly impossible for even the most motivated person to extricate themselves from the situation. Housing instability leads to employment instability, which prevents access to opportunities for professional and personal development. Likewise, housing instability causes problems for children in school,….....

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Works Cited

Desmond, Matthew. Evicted. New York: Penguin Random House, 2017.

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