This book follows a few different families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin living in poverty (and a few of the landlords). It’s written in a very journalistic way–Desmond is a fly on the wall watching and writing everything down. At the end of the book he explains that during the fieldwork, he lived in one of the trailer parks, knows he was treated a certain way for being a white man, and found it difficult not to intervene more than he did.
One thing he emphasizes is how under-researched the topic of eviction is. It’s so easy to evict people on a whim, and it’s so hard to pay rent when your income in less than $1000 a month. One person was making $650 a month and their rent was $600. Shit like that. Or another would be so behind on their rent, and they’d finally give their last amount of money and still get evicted the next day. It’s just so circular–you don’t make enough, you can’t/can barely pay the rent, then you get evicted (which has tremendous psychological effects), you start searching for another place to live, then you might lose your job amid your search because of how time consuming and draining it is, and you might not even find a place because now you have an eviction on your record. There was one woman calling upwards of 90 rental units over the course of two days and getting turned down by each one.
The topic of redlining and creating “dangerous” areas or even buildings has so much to do with the landlord’s processes. Entire neighborhoods are designed around how they choose to enforce rules like no evictions or no felonies (or no kids). Desmond adds that those are two specifically anti-black policies, as black women have the highest rates of evictions and black men have the highest rates of felonies. I did take issue with how he writes about drug dealers because (like so many other books–like The Prize: Who’s in Charge of American Schools?) he treats them like they’re creepy-crawly inhuman characters who are evidence of a “bad” area when they’re actually regular people, also trying to find and keep housing amid these conditions.