The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Poverty and Profit in the American City

May 9, 2016

The book Evicted by Matthew Desmond is a powerful indictment of the American system of housing for profit.

As incomes for ordinary people have stayed flat or gone down, rents have gone way up. Today, most poor families spend more than half of their incomes on rent, and many spend more than 70 percent.

This means families are forced to choose between rent and food. They are constantly falling behind, and getting evicted, often over and over again. One woman Desmond follows is a single mother, who is left with $20 a month to support her two kids after paying the rent.

Out of 105,000 renter households in Milwaukee, landlords evict 16,000 people each year. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Landlords force people out without “evicting” them—sometimes by simply taking off their front door.

And landlords make out like bandits off this system. Rents in Milwaukee’s poor neighborhoods are only a little bit lower than in its wealthy neighborhoods, even though people have MUCH less money. This is because only landlords in poor neighborhoods will take in renters who have an eviction on their record, or who can’t prove they have a high income, or who have bad credit. So they can charge what they want!

When renters fall behind, landlords hold the threat of eviction over their tenants’ heads, and refuse to do even basic maintenance. One of the families Desmond follows lives for months without working plumbing. A trailer park owner “gives away” trailer titles to new tenants, but still charges very high rent for the lots where they are parked. This legal dodge allows him to avoid paying for trailer maintenance.

Desmond shows how the whole legal system is set up against renters. Eviction court almost never goes the renter’s way. The Sheriff’s Office then sends deputies to kick evicted people out.

In another case, a woman called the cops on a man beating up her neighbor. The cops charge the landlord a fine for having been called to the house, and the landlord evicted her tenant for having tried to help a neighbor. She winds up on the streets, trying to survive as a prostitute.

This book is set in Milwaukee, but it could be anywhere. It shows that housing run for profit is a disaster for the population. It’s like everything else in this rotten capitalist society—a few shameless investors make fortunes off the suffering of the poorest people.