Tom MacWright

I read Evicted by Matthew Desmond on


I’m a few years late to reading Evicted, which made a big splash in 2016. It’s a really standout book.

Evicted is about the housing crisis in America, centered on people living in Milwaukee. It’s extremely well-crafted: Desmond tells complex personal stories with empathy and just enough detail. It lets those stories do the work.

Desmond’s viewpoint and recommendations are remarkably similar to Jane Jacobs, including his income-pegged voucher recommendation in the conclusion. Overall it seems pretty well-balanced - the angry Amazon reviews from landlords will disagree, but those tend to reinforce the impression that many landlords are ghouls who have built their careers on maintaining inequality.

What struck me the most was the total uselessness of the pit of poverty. Nobody (except landlords) benefits from keeping people in this cycle of eviction, drug addiction, and unemployment. Everyone loses. Money flows from the government directly to landlords. It’s not just a cruel system: it’s an inefficient system that robs people of their potential and then blames them for it.

I generally agree with Desmond’s solution. He does say that we “can’t build ourselves out of the crisis” - which is true, that building new housing isn’t a silver bullet. But that statement seems very tied to Milwaukee, a city with too few jobs and lots of aging housing. Other cities have the a true housing undersupply, especially in coastal cities, and artificial supply constraints do really matter there.