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Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

You wouldn’t think a man who lives in the world of academics (in this case a Harvard sociologist/ethnographer) would be able to so accurately and compassionately capture what the affordable housing crisis is doing to those living in poverty.

He not only achieves this, but uses Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City as a teaching tool for the millions of Americans who know nothing about what it is to live in poverty and the forced cycle of instability. There are other mitigating factors here, but he concentrates his focus on the inherent lack of housing priced within their means.


This book is meticulously researched and shows the struggle that eight families in Milwaukee go through to keep a roof over their heads — and how that struggle and the seemingly-arbitrarily determined evictions that often come with it affect their ability to get new housing.

It shows the vicious cycle these families are trapped in as they move from horrible to appalling conditions while attempting to retain their own sense of dignity and bravery and prove that “Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The simple reason: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart” (300).

If you want to know about what the lack of affordable housing is doing to your fellow Americans, this book should definitely be at the top of your list.

Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, America

“There is nothing special about Milwaukee when it comes to eviction,” Desmond writes in the prologue to Evicted. This book “tells an American story.” Here in Pittsburgh, many recognize that story as being our own, and discussions about neighborhood change, affordable housing availability and housing justice are happening both informally between neighbors and formally through the work of local organizations or through local government initiatives such as the City of Pittsburgh Affordable Housing Task Force.

The task force found that Pittsburgh is short 17,241 housing units that are affordable to households earning up to 50% of the city’s median household income. (While there are many methods to measure affordability, the bottom line is that many Pittsburgh families struggle to pay rent, just like the families in Evicted.)

Pittsburgh is short 17,241 housing units that are affordable to households earning up to 50% of the city’s median household income.

Evicted has such an impact in telling its story in part because of the urgency of the topic, and in part because Desmond adeptly blends numbers and narratives to tell a complete story — as he described it in an interview, people’s honest stories and statistical data “each pushed off against the other and kind of kept the other honest.”

Join us for an Evicted discussion and author lecture tonight!

Matthew Desmond will be visiting the Lecture Hall at 7 pm tonight to discuss Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City as part of our New and Noted series with Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures. Tickets can be purchased for $10 ahead of the event or at the door.

Ahead of the lecture, join us in the Main Library’s First Floor for a discussion of the book and meet Eleanor Tutt, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Open Data and Knowledge Manager. Eleanor will moderate a discussion of the book and highlight ways in which anyone can use freely available data to better understand what is happening in the community.

-Whitney Z. & Eleanor

Want to learn more about affordable housing?

Meet Evicted author Matt Desmond!

Whitney Z. is a native Pittsburgher. She is currently a substitute Library Assistant who loves audiobooks, music and movies. She believes firmly that NASA made a mistake in demoting Pluto and would sincerely like for said decision to be reversed.

Eleanor works on open data, data literacy and impact measurement activities at the Library. She likes maps, pizza and public transportation — and collects bus transfers and transit passes from places she has visited.

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