Matthew Desmond’s book illustrates the issues and complications inherent in discussions of overhauling landlord-tenant law. To the average person, being “EVICTED” sounds bad—it means you didn’t fulfill your obligations to your prior landlord to pay your bills, or you caused damage to that landlord’s property and they put you out. The blame falls on the tenant having some sort of personal failing that caused their circumstances. Desmond illustrates how eviction is not quite that simple. There aren’t just bad tenants, there are bad landlords; and sometimes eviction isn’t the tenant’s fault, but the result of external circumstances beyond their control.
Mr. Desmond makes several points worth noting. First, he points out the disparity in how genders deal with eviction notices: women simply move when they run out of time; whereas men will confront the landlord or will try to make a deal to exchange work for rent. Some landlords take advantage of these tenant’s desperation and inability to pay and wring every bit of work they can out them for far less than fair value. Second, Mr. Desmond discusses how landlords abuse the “rent certificate program” by charging more for the same apartment when the tenant is on an assistance program. Tenants in assistance programs are charged an average of $55 more a month, costing housing programs an overage of $3.6 million a year. Third, Mr. Desmond discusses how police involvement can increase the problems for at-risk tenants. When local governments cite landlords for repeat 911 calls, it effectively encourages landlords to punish at-risk tenants with eviction.
Mr. Desmond’s asserts that building more housing doesn’t serve most tenants. Rather, he proposes expanding the voucher program to benefit all low-income families. He says that such an action would rebalance the interests, allowing landlords to maintain to profits from rent and provide safe and affordable housing for tenants. I disagree that throwing money at the problem will be effective unless two of the big underlying issues are resolved: lack of oversight on pricing of rental units, and local governments citing landlords for tenants use emergency services. I also think that there are certain populations that would benefit from special housing programs. For example, a large scale half-way houses for ex-cons and drug addicts could be a good thing if they are properly managed and treated as a social project that offers positive socializing, social and psychological services, education, and legal services, these people have a better chance of avoiding reoffending, relapsing, and/or finding themselves homeless. Overall Matthew Desmond’s book “EVICTED” is a good overview of the problems inherent in current landlord-tenant law and uses stories of real people to bring the circumstances and problems alive for the reader.
Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016).