Readers’ Forum–Al Bell and Catana Barnes. P4P Call Tonight

Our final commentaries on EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City are by Al Bell from Arizona and Catana Barnes from Nevada.

Dial in this evening at 7 pm EST for our conversation with the author of EVICTED, Matthew Desmond.  The call in number is 641 715-3605 and the access code is 767775#.


Al Bell (R) with Arizona democracy activists, Tim Castro (L), Patrick McWhortor, Amanda Melcher and Adriana Espinoza


Evicted is a story we need to know. It can only be known by living within it, not talking about it. Matthew Desmond knows and we are privileged to be exposed to that knowledge.

Your respondents have made the clear case that most of us have never had to face the life Matthew Desmond shared with us in Evicted. Many thing can be said of this powerful story. One of them is that, if one has ever lived in circumstances like those Mathew describes, his ability to convey what that feels like is exceptional, indeed. While our family was never evicted in the way Matthew depicts, I do remember living as a kid in a trailer camp where the four year old girl next door burned to death because she tipped a can of kerosene on a hot plate on the floor of the sixteen foot trailer her family lived in (same size as ours). When the trains roared by, a couple hundred feet away, everything shook and rattled. We were in our own world and the “other” world where real people lived was something of a mystery. The vast difference between that experience and those Matthew describes, however, is that we had a way out and it eventually worked.

Yes, housing does matter and we escaped owing to unique circumstances. The people Matthew writes about will never enjoy those circumstances as long as our current housing culture prevails—and probably not even if it changes for the better. Lag times and generational gaps are immense. Having spent 47 years in the community planning business, I could go on all day about the multiple dimensions of how the dice are loaded for people like those in Matthew’s book. You’re lucky: I won’t do that!

What is truly incredible about Matthew’s story is how he lived it himself—an act of commitment most of us would never contemplate, let alone carry out. This story reveals so much because it is told through the eyes of real experience, not vicarious tales. I was waiting through most of the book to find out if this is real, or some feat of imagination. Then came the last chapter and an avalanche of insight and revelation.

In contrast to most investigative reports, I spent a significant amount of time with his chapter notes. They could be a book all in themselves.

I know you will express our book club members’ gratitude for Matthew’s commitment to revealing reality by living it himself. That is true dedication. I have no idea how he did that and managed to live his own life at the same time. We are truly in his debt. His wife must be some kind of saint! You can certainly add my name to the list of appreciative and highly impressed readers.

And thank you, Cathy, for exposing us to this amazing work.

 Al Bell is an activist with Independent Voters for Arizona.

Catana Barnes

catana barnes speaking

Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is one of the best books I have had the pleasure to read. The accounts of real life struggles brought me to tears more than once as I watched someone I know going through the very issues being faced in the book as well as the very real struggles I face myself. I was also struck by the number of societal pitfalls that ensnare those who are not fortunate enough to buy their way out of their plight.

I grew up poor, by all American standards, and have become even more impoverished throughout adulthood. As I was reading Evicted, I came to the realization that the lives of my children, many of my friends and I have been significantly influenced by the societal pitfalls Matthew Desmond alludes to in his book. Unfortunately, it appears that the societal pitfalls are becoming more expansive at the same time there is greater monetary reward for landlords.

One of the most striking chapters I have read so far is Chapter 2: Making Rent. I learned a great deal about the impact of corporations moving their companies out of the country in search of cheap labor as well as the impact of President Clinton’s welfare reform that took place in the early 1990s. I also learned that there are people who have had to and are paying up to ninety percent of their income on rent alone and the fact that laws and policies protect landlords and punish tenants.

Matthew Desmond does a superb job at reaching the conscience and heart of the reader. He also does a superb job at educating the reader about a highly destructive societal pitfall. As I stated previously, I consider “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” to be one of the best books I have ever read and highly recommend it to everyone.

Catana Barnes is the founder and President of Independent Voters of Nevada.


Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST


Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Readers’ Forum–Tiani Coleman and Dr. Jessie Fields

Tiani Coleman

tiani coleman ACA

Dr. Lenora Fulan with Tiani Coleman, recipient of a 2015 Anti-Corruption Award by the New York City Independence Clubs

How I Relate to Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

As I read Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, the portrayal of the friction-filled lives and terrible living conditions experienced by eight tenant families in Milwaukee as telling “an American story” that can be found in average cities across the country, and isn’t reserved to places like Detroit, Los Angeles, or Chicago, I thought about two opposing experiences I’ve had living in two different cities:  New York City and Salt Lake City.

In 1998, when I first graduated from law school, having accepted a job offer in NYC, I took a day off from studying for the NY Bar Exam to go on a housing hunt.  Not being from the City, safety was a concern.  I scanned the newspaper for good places to rent.  The cheapest place I could find that still met our basic requirements was on the West Side.  As I got closer and closer to the address, I noticed that the surroundings were getting dumpier and dumpier.  I pushed the buzzer on the walk-up, and a man buzzed me in, but when I opened the door and saw the dark, dirty, banged-up, ever-so-steep flight of stairs, I got the heebie-jeebies, turned around, and walked away.  I soon found out that that had been in Hell’s Kitchen.

So I have a confession to make (a big, bad one):  I gave up on trying to find the perfect, relatively cheap place full of character, and was lured into signing a promotional contract with a new development  — yes, Donald Trump was my “landlord” — I was the very first tenant to move into the first Trump Place on the upper West side by the Lincoln Center, along the Hudson.  Apart from riding the subway, I didn’t see too much of the stereotypical inner-city life, spent long hours at the office, and went to church with lots of other DINKS.  But within a year, I had a baby, and my husband and I moved to downtown Salt Lake City.

When we first went to church in downtown SLC, we quickly discovered that it looked nothing like the congregation in NYC.  For one thing, the pews were relatively empty (ironically surprising).  For another, the people were not well educated, and with the exception of a wealthier retired community and a few others, the congregants were primarily residents of a retired and/or disabled public-housing high-rise, or part of a permanent low-income class, living in ghetto-like neighborhoods, including three homeless shelters.

Shortly after getting sworn in to the Utah Bar (still nursing my baby), I discovered that I would be called upon regularly (along with a couple of others) to be the pro bono legal services for my congregation.  My first case was an eviction case.

A family with young children was being asked to vacate immediately or incur triple damages and attorneys fees, with back rent owed regardless.  After helping my clients put up bond, and counterclaiming with, among other things: partial payment, with prior notice of a broken furnace and sewage problems; and stolen tools (the landlord had taken my handy-man client’s specialty tools, affecting his ability to work), I got chewed out by opposing counsel.  He said, “What are you doing?  You must be new around here; this isn’t the way it’s done.  You’re unnecessarily complicating things.”  When I went to court, I saw that the docket was set up for these cases to be rubber stamped quickly; the judge and opposing counsel were chummy from having seen so much of each other, with nobody there with representation to defend themselves against their slumlord.  The case dragged on (for discovery) while the living conditions got worse and my clients looked for other options.  The landlord, nervous about some of the allegations against him, did return the tools, and we got the case dismissed, without damages or attorneys fees; but ultimately, my clients moved back with the in-laws out of state, and the landlord was never really held accountable as a bad actor.

I spent four years living in SLC’s inner city before moving to the suburbs.  I saw situations similar to  Desmond’s documented vignettes of how the poor are exploited, and how people’s housing situation affects every other aspect of their lives:  from the devastating effects of high interest pay-day loans to try to keep afloat, to the heart-wrenching stories of DCFS being so quick to take children away from poverty-stricken families and putting them into juvenile homes or foster care, to people living in constant fear, if not of gang violence or deportation, then of eviction.

Desmond eloquently explains that when we discuss the housing issue, “[t]here are two freedoms at odds with each other:  the freedom to profit from rents and the freedom to live in a safe and affordable home.”  While he paints a picture that makes it clear that we can’t blame tenants for their plight (they have no options to get ahead), he doesn’t cast all of the blame at the feet of landlords, either:  “[i]f given the same opportunity, would any of us price an apartment at half of what it could fetch or simply forgive and forget losing thousands of dollars when the rent checks didn’t arrive?”  But we’re deceiving ourselves if we say the housing market should just be left as is to regulate itself; after all, the government is actively supporting the exploitation, with a system that “legitimizes and defends landlords’ right to charge as much as they want; that subsidizes the construction of high-end apartments, bidding up rents and leaving the poor with even fewer options; that pays landlords when a family cannot, through onetime or ongoing housing assistance; that forcibly removes a family at landlords’ request by dispatching armed law enforcement officers,” and on and on.

I completely agree with Desmond that we need to “uncover the ironies and inefficiencies that arise when policymakers try to help poor families without addressing the root causes of poverty.”  After all, simply increasing wages, without any other action, just leads to higher rents, and the poor still have the same impossible burdens to meet.   Desmond believes there’s a way to re-balance the two competing freedoms: by significantly expanding our housing voucher program (and ensuring regulation).  I’m not sure this will solve what’s a very difficult problem, but we certainly need to have a real, serious conversation about it.

It starts with awareness.  Just as I failed to witness the day-to-day struggles of many living in NYC, many residents of SLC are oblivious to the dire situations of people just blocks southwest of their high-end downtown living.  Now when I drive along the West Side Highway in NYC, I feel sick as I see that the entire West Side has been turned into a long string of character-lacking, high-end housing, bearing the name of Trump.  I contributed to there being fewer and fewer places for low-income people to live within the City because I couldn’t see the big picture.  Why haven’t we been having these conversations during this election season?  In the last several months, we’ve scarcely heard about the ever-increasing income gap or what the two major-party candidates plan to do about the multi-faceted problem of poverty in our country.  Both parties seem to benefit from not finding answers.  We need to create a less polarized, less special-interest driven electoral system that allows us to see each other, talk to each other, understand each other’s concerns, needs and interests, and start making real progress for the good of our country.  For me, the inner city is a crazy memory, but for millions of Americans, it’s a devastating daily reality.

Tiani Xochitl Coleman is a mother of five, a graduate of Cornell Law School, and president of NH Independent Voters.

Dr. Jessie Fields


Dr. Jessie Fields and Kerry Malloy (r) at the 2105 Anti-Corruption Awards

The book, EVICTED Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond teaches us so much about how eviction impacts the lives of poor people in America and about how profitable poverty is in our cities.

I find the book to be a powerful combination of personal tragedies, grit in the face of exploitation and hardship, and important revelations about causes of poverty. It is a stirring, compelling must read. We come to live with the families as the author did and many moments in the book provoke deep sadness and tears at their suffering.

When Vanetta and Crystal, two young black women who had been evicted and were staying in a shelter were denied housing because of their race, the author explains that housing segregation was not an accident of urban industrialization.

The ghetto had always been a main feature of landed capital, a prime moneymaker for those who saw ripe opportunity in land scarcity, housing dilapidation, and racial segregation.”

Property in poor communities plagued by long standing housing segregation cost landlords less, they are still able to charge relatively high rents without the expense of having to maintain the property.

One of the many stories in the book is the disproportionate impact of eviction on Black women, their children and families.

The everyday stories of our cities: too bleak to wrap in stanzas

Such fury jumps the meter, misery will burst the rhyme

Like a forced move down below

With no heat in winter

Clogged sinks and empty shelves

To worse on the streets.

Arleen, Jori, Jafaris

Vanetta and her little boy

Crystal spinning out of control.

Lamar and the boys

The Hinkstons: Doreen, Patrice, Natasha

Lorraine, Pam and Ned

However poor whites

And blacks kept divided.

Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor moved into Tobin’s trailer park in May 2008 and lived there for several months, followed by living in a rooming house in the black community on the North Side of Milwaukee until June 2009. Desmond immersed himself in the lives of poor families black and white and he worked to understand the landlords as well. In the last chapter of the book, “About This Project” he writes about the personal impact the work had on him.

The honest answer is that the work was heartbreaking and left me depressed for years.”

“You do learn how to cope from those who are coping.”

There is also in the book many examples of the decency and humanity that poor and working people steadfastly uphold even in the midst of it all.

Dr. Jessie Fields is a physician practising in Harlem, a leader in the New York City Independence Clubs, and a board member of the All Stars Project and Open Primaries.



Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Readers’ Forum–Harriet Hoffman and Natesha Oliver

Harriet Hoffman


Harriet Hoffman (r) with Edith Bargoma (c) and June Hirsh at the Anti-Corruption Awards this month.

As I began reading Evicted my first thought was – Wow, I didn’t realize that evictions are part of a growing industry, that there is money to be made from evicting people from their homes.  I appreciated that the Matthew Desmond didn’t assign blame either to the families or the individual landlords or those who are paid to dump the belongings onto the sidewalks (who are in some cases evictees themselves), or those who operate the storage units (where there are exorbitant fees to be paid when someone wants to reclaim their belongings).  I was shocked to read that in Milwaukee the difference between the rent for a poorly maintained apartment in a low income neighborhood and the rent paid for a “nice” apartment in a middle class neighborhood, is only a couple of hundred dollars a month.  Except that the poor don’t have access to those nicer apartments.  And, I am in awe of the fortitude of the families depicted so compassionately in this book, who ask for so little, starting over again and again, moving from hope to hopelessness, from housing court to eviction, homeless shelter to apartment, and back around again.

I live in New York City where 64,464 people are now living in shelters, including 23,929 homeless children, and thousands more on the streets.  I live just steps away from a public housing complex where nearly 5,000 people live in 2,000 apartments in 17 buildings.  It is one of dozens of public housing sites in this city in which over half a million people have had a chance, for many years, to have stable homes.  But the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has begun selling its buildings, parking lots and playground spaces to private developers who will put up new buildings that the poor cannot afford to live in.  Evictions have already begun, and surely NYCHA’s callous “Next Generation” plan, if carried out, will eventually destroy public housing and will leave many more thousands of men, women and children stranded.

I am really angry about this.  I am a member of the Committee for Independent Political Action, which, under the leadership of Dr. Lenora Fulani, is organizing tenants and others to fight back.  The City doesn’t have to take this route, but, as in Milwaukee and elsewhere, there is little political will among the politicians to support decent housing for the poor.  As Matthew Desmond asserts in this wonderful book, it would be less expensive to provide a housing voucher for every low income family in America than it is to maintain homeless shelters and the apparatus that evicts people from their homes.

I know that most ordinary New Yorkers strongly oppose NYCHA’s plan.  And this is a stark example of what happens when we the people have no opportunity to impact public policy.  That’s why I have also worked for many years with the NYC Independence Clubs and, which are fighting to restore a democratic decision-making process to our country.  At our popular Talkin’ Independence events, which I coordinate, people from every walk of life are talking about why it is so important for the people, not the political parties, to have the power to decide about housing and other critical issues.

Harriet Hoffman is a consultant specializing in grant writing and helping people maximize their Medicare and social security benefits.  She is the coordinator of the popular monthly independent volunteer gathering, Talkin’ Independence, a program of and the New York City Independence Clubs


Natesha Oliver

Natesha Oliver (r) with Cathy Stewart and Politics for the People member, Cheryl White (l)

Natesha Oliver (l) with Cathy Stewart and Politics for the People member, Cheryl White (r) National Conference of Independents, NYC, March 2015


It is a challenge for Me to put in words My thoughts on Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted. I have a lot of things going through My mind, The attitudes of the Landlords and how they lived lavished lives while making money off the desperation of others. They may not have contributed to the onset of their tenants conditions yet they sure as hell didn’t do anything to alleviate their tenants’ condition even when it came to maintaining their property. And how they would knowingly watch the property deteriorate and still allow people to live in their squalor, and this is where I am most conflicted because could the Landlords have prevented the deterioration, I don’t know, this truly bothers Me the most.

What the children have to endure when living like that is nothing short of disturbing and when they act out evictions were cold and swift, another confliction because who wants to pay for damage caused by someone else’s child.

Knowing that these properties were purchased with the intent to house impoverished people for profit is truly disturbing.

For the sake of time and sanity I will end with this quote by Matthew Desmond:

“This degree of inequality, this withdrawal of opportunity, this cold denial of basic needs, this endorsement of pointless suffering—by no American value is this situation justified. No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become”.

Natesha Oliver is the founder of MIST, Missouri Independents Stand Together. She lives in Kansas City.


Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#


Readers’ Forum: Jeff Aron and Michelle McCleary

Jeff Aron


Jeff Aron, the Director of External Affairs at Fountain House with Dr. Shekhar Saxena and Dr. Tarun Dua, the heads of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization in Geneva.

Evicted is an important book that moved me deeply. I have known and worked with people like those about whom Matthew Desmond writes for much of my life. He has shared (as they have shared with him) struggles, hard work, failures, pain and so much more. Through a variety of research efforts, both ethnographic and with the very detailed MARS, he powerfully demonstrates the economic and political forces that are arrayed against them and the rot and responsibility that we all share.

This book is both part of and brilliantly carries on a tradition of writers and activists including Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Lewis Hine, Michael Harrington and Upton Sinclair who exposed injustice and illuminated the lives of poor and homeless people. As I read Evicted, I found myself thinking about: 1) scenes from Les Miserables (in which Jean Valjean was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread); and, 2) the conditions that led to the making of the French revolution (and others).

I also thought about my early adulthood, when I was an anthropologist searching for alternatives to the racism and poverty which I witnessed in America – and my decision to leave academia to become a community organizer and activist.  I remembered how inspired I was when I discovered a movement that brought together people from different class, race and educational backgrounds in a shared commitment to engage poverty and to build new and independent organizations that were unconstrained by traditional and, to my mind, failed efforts.  We came from communities that didn’t ordinarily talk or work together,  and whose respective communities not only wondered what we were doing but opposed us being in each other’s neigborhoods and lives.

This was seen as illegitimate and we came to be seen as illegitimate. For example, we organized a union of welfare recipients, which was led by welfare recipients and organized with support from middle class women.  Leadership included a woman who did not know how to read, a mother of 14 children, and a former public school teacher. People of color and whites worked together to organize demonstrations, picket welfare centers, and mobilize welfare recipients in alliance with people from diverse communities and histories.  We organized for power rather than merely for benefits; we organized new political alliances independent of the established parties. Although we explored tenant and other forms of constituency organizing, we also had intense conversations about what kinds of organizations needed to be built. For nearly 40 years we have continued having these conversations and experimenting with new forms of organizing.

In particular, it continues with Lenora Fulani and the residents in NYCHA Housing; in the Development School for Youth, All Stars Talent Show Network and UX where young people and adults talk openly about being poor, the humiliation they feel and becoming powerful.

I strongly support Desmond’s prescription for a universal housing voucher and am very interested in his thoughts about the political and cultural transformations we might need in this country to have it become national policy. For example:

  • The relationship between what we need to do at the grass roots to create the conditions for legislation or executive action from the top down?
  • What kind of national conversation would we need to have in this country?
  • What changes in our political processes, e.g. can he envision the Democratic and Republican Parties coming to an agreement to implement this?

It seems unlikely to me that the voucher policy, as well as other progressive responses to poverty and homelessness, can be achieved without an opening of the electoral process to all those who, for a variety of reasons, have rejected the two party control of political decision making.

One of the reasons that I appreciate the Politics for the People Book Club so much is that it is both a part of and an exemplar of the kind of political and cultural activity that we need to engage in.

I deeply appreciate and respect the work that Matthew Desmond is doing as a writer, researcher, a leader in academia and as an activist who is in the struggle to reshape policy.

Jeff Aron has been active in independent political efforts in New York City and nationally since the late ’70’s. He is a passionate supporter of


Michelle McCleary

photo (3)

I recently traveled to New Orleans, LA to attend a conference.  As the airport shuttle traveled through the streets, it was clear that New Orleans had yet to fully recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.  The Sheraton, Marriot and other beautiful hotels stood proudly in the midst of grimy, run down streets and impoverished people. I was saddened, but unfortunately not surprised by what I saw.  I wondered to myself for the ten thousandth time, WHY, gotdammit!  Why do we as a country allow this deep poverty and abandonment to continue?  When will we take our country back and demand fairness and equality for all?  I, of course, already know the answer:  People are afraid.  History has shown us that when we take a stand, more often than not we lose everything: our livelihood, our family and sometimes even our lives.    The shame that poor people are made to feel is even more powerful than the aforementioned fear.  Of course, it’s your fault that you don’t have enough to eat.  Of course it’s your fault that you don’t have a stable place to live. Why else would you not have what you need?   America is a meritocracy.  We reward hard work! No free rides here! Blah, blah, blah.

I really appreciated Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in The American City.  The author provides an emotional and riveting look into the chaotic lives of people whose unstable and often non-existent housing leaves them living on the edge.  As I read ‘Evicted’, I couldn’t help but think of how much human capital is wasted in America.  The amount of talent that is never developed or even seen because segments of our population are considered disposable is staggering.  In 2007, I began teaching at a not-for profit in Harlem.  My job was to help ‘vulnerable youth’ (court involved, foster care and young adults living in homeless shelters) improve their reading, writing and math.  Ninety-five percent of the participants had never met their parents. Ever.  These young adults – ages 16-23 – felt the pain of their abandonment deeply.   Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I could help these young people because quite frankly, they could be mean and vicious.  One young man told me “bitch, I’ll get you fired”!! I knew that if I was going to be successful at his job I would have to bring out my ‘take no crap persona.’  I was also going to have to be as giving as possible because I simply refused to be yet another person who failed these young adults.  After a series of near show downs in the classroom (LOL!) I began to earn the program participants’ respect.  I began to introduce them to the power of performance i.e. pretend to be who you are not. I urged these young adults to read like they were me – a nerd who preferred a good book over a new pair of shoes! During early morning skits that we wrote together I watched as some of the young men (some of them I KNOW were in gangs) pretend to be ballerinas.  What a hoot!! As we went through this process together, they began to change and to let me and the other teachers see more of who they were:  talented writers and singers; great at math and science; and deeply caring toward some of their mentally challenged classmates.  I saw the reading scores of some of the program participants soar: 4th grade reading levels to 12th grade in SIX months!!!

I worked with this population – vulnerable youth – for seven years.  It was one of the hardest jobs I have ever held.  The most heart breaking aspect of this experience was that no matter how talented these young adults were, the chaos of their lives – shuttled from shelter to shelter or foster care parent – pretty much guaranteed that they would never get a chance to be fully seen or heard in our society.

I look forward to the day when we as Americans decide that our desire for justice and decency far outweighs our fears or our judgements.

Michelle McCleary is a long-time independent and the President of the Metro NY Chapter of the National Black MBA Association.


Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Rakeen Dow-A Tale of Two Cities

Rakeen Dow is an activist with the All Stars Project’s Committee for Independent Community Action. He is also a co-founder of Live Poet’s Society NYC performance ensemble.  

A Tale of Two Cities is a poem that Rakeen wrote in response to the regressive Next Gen plan for New York City’s public housing.




A Tale of Two Cities

This is the tale of two cites,

One where you know,

The rich get richer,

And richer,

The poor get poorer and poorer

And consistently screwed!

De Blasio’s political platform,

When running for the Mayor ship

Was that he didn’t want

New York City,

To turn into

A tale of two cites

All the while

Gentrification was the master plan

To be implemented

Sort of like it was

When the true Native Americans

Where run off the land!

So here comes NYCHA

With their Next Generation/Infill plan,

A plan built to deceive

And is as stealth as a Trojan horse!

They’re gonna build

These luxury condo buildings

On the public housing’s under-utilized land?

They say don’t worry

Thirty percent of the apartments

Are earmarked for affordable housing usage

For those with a minimum income

Of forty thousand dollars.

Meanwhile the median income

Of the families who live

In NYCHA housing complexes is

Twenty-five thousand dollars.

So I ask,

Affordable for whom?

Not my sister Deborah,

Not my uncle Buddy and

Not my best friend Boo

Who I grew up with

They all still reside there

What are they gonna do?

It’s a damn shame!

People being forced out their homes!

Meanwhile where is our political leadership?

Last I heard

In some backroom

Cutting deals with

The Developers!

What has this world come to?


It’s a damn shame!

When basic human needs,

Such as housing and shelter

Have become obsolete

Due to the love of money

Politicians’ and developers


So remember, the next time

You pass by A Next Generation/Infill site,

Behind it is,

A Tale of Two Cites!



Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

Readers’ Forum – Doug Balder and Harry Kresky


Harry Kresky (l) and Doug Balder (r)

In his wrenching book, Evicted, Matthew Desmond observes that the first step on the devastating journey from eviction to homelessness is often the loss of an apartment in subsided or “public” housing.  A family that lived in a stable home is forced into dilapidated, private-sector housing, owned and operated by landlords seeking short-term profits from tenants who are likely to face further eviction, impoverishment, and social disintegration.

Here in New York City more than 500,000 people live in public housing operated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), equal to half the entire population of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city Desmond writes about.  The “projects” are a critical part of New York City’s infrastructure.  Maintenance could surely be better and capital improvements are badly needed.  But, for generations of poor and working class families, the projects provided stability, security, community and, of course, a roof over their heads.

This year, under the City’s “progressive” Mayor, Democrat Bill DeBlasio, NYCHA has begun to implement its “NextGen” master plan.  Under NextGen’s “infill” program, playgrounds, sitting areas, and other public spaces in NYCHA housing complexes will be sold to private developers, who will be permitted to build high rise apartment buildings containing a combination of market-rate and “affordable” units.  However, the “affordable” units are beyond the means of the average NYCHA tenant.  In addition, the plan allows the sale of existing NYCHA apartments to private landlords, who will receive a subsidy as long as the present tenants remain.  After that, the unit can be rented to families chosen by the developer, and earning up to $142,395 for a family of four.

Dr. Lenora Fulani and her Committee for Independent Community Action is campaigning against NextGen and has widespread support among public housing tenants and other New Yorkers who care about the lives of poor and working people.  CICA views NextGen as the first step in full privatization.  NYCHA claims these drastic steps are needed to meet its $17 billion capital deficit and $98 million annual operating deficit.  However, NYCHA’s own projection is that infill and the sale of apartments will generate a total of $300-600 million, a fraction of the capital deficit.  For real estate developers, NextGen provides an opportunity to build on what is now very valuable land, such as that at Holmes Houses overlooking the East River on Manhattan’s upper east side.

For those displaced by privatization, the consequences will be as drastic as those described in Eviction.  One need only look around New York to see massive luxury development in what were once working-class neighborhoods in Hell’s Kitchen, Long Island City and Williamsburg, and accelerating gentrification in Harlem and East New York.  We look forward to hearing what Professor Desmond has to say about this unfolding social catastrophe.

Douglas Balder is an architect and on the Board of Directors of the All Stars Project.

Harry Kresky is counsel to and one of the country’s leading experts on nonpartisan primary reform and the legal issues facing independent voters.


Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

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Frank Fear Reviews Evicted

REVIEW: Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, New York: Crown Publishers, 2016[1]


By Frank A. Fear, professor emeritus, Michigan State University


“Whatever our way out of this mess, one thing is certain. This degree of inequality, this withdrawal of opportunity, this cold denial of basic needs, this endorsement of pointless suffering—by no American values is this situation justified. No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”  (p. 313)

Eloquently phrased, so valid and compelling in substance…. Those words gave me great pause for thought.

I thought about America. How did it get this way? I thought about me. How can I make a difference?

The most sobering thought of all was this: nothing Matthew Desmond writes about is new.

At various levels we know severe poverty exists in this country. But most of us live a world apart—apart occupationally, economically, socially, and institutionally. But it’s different geographically. Wander a bit from Main Street or the suburbs. You’ll find it. And it’s closer than you think … often too close for comfort.

Desmond’s book should make us feel uncomfortable. He helps us confront this “other reality” in vivid and sometimes raw terms.

For me, the most discomforting part of the book was Desmond’s treatment of profit. There’s money to be made in the slums. Landlords, lenders, and other actors profit on the backs of vulnerable people—people living hardscrabble lives who don’t always know what tomorrow will bring.

Exploitation, now there’s a word that has been scrubbed out of the poverty debate,” Desmond writes (p. 305). I won’t forget that phrasing.

I didn’t read Evicted from cover to cover. I read Part One (through p. 107) to get grounded. Intrigued by the study design, I then turned to the end of the book and read about Desmond’s methodology (“About This Project,” pp. 315-336). Wondering about Desmond’s overall conclusions and recommendations I next read “Epilogue: Home and Hope” (pp. 293-313).

I used Epilogue as the foundation for reading the rest of the book. I highlighted (literally so, by marker) supporting documentation (the material cited in footnotes) and connected that evidentiary material to vignettes about people and relationships. Connecting those two domains—data about poverty (important to me as social scientist) with stories about poverty (important to me as citizen activist)—made the book come alive.

After finishing the book I spent time thinking about the meaning of Evicted. I concluded that it’s a Call to Arms. We must do more, and do better, as stewards of the commonwealth. Desmond says as much:

“Working on behalf of the common good is the engine of democracy, vital to our communities, cities, and states—and, ultimately, the nation. It is “an outflow of the idealism and moralism of the American people, wrote Gunner Myrdal.” (p. 294)

What might we do to serve the common good? I offer two recommendations. The first has to do with our role as benefactors. The second pertains to our role as political actors.

As Benefactors. A benefactor is a kindly helper. Millions of Americans are benefactors in the fight against poverty. We serve by volunteering time and giving money to America’s nonprofit agencies.

Not all agency work is the same, though. A good share of the work involves providing people relief from poverty and some of it targets the causes of poverty. If you’re like me then you’ve devoted more attention to relief and less to cause-remediation.

When I served as president of a municipal food bank I watched the client roll grow. More people needed food assistance. Many were children. Many were senior citizens. Many were “new kinds of people,” people you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with hunger, such as out-of-work professionals.

How could this be happening in America, I thought? I wasn’t the only person asking that question. And many times I heard this answer: “There will always be poor people in America. Our moral responsibility is to tend to their needs.”

Relief services certainly have a place. But raising more money to provide relief services to more and more people is an endless routine. It capitulates to the forces that cause hunger. And it makes benefactors problem responders, not problem solvers.

I believe America needs to reinvigorate its efforts to address the causes of poverty. One way to do that is by concentrating more time and money on agencies, programs, and services that target the causes of poverty by addressing those causes directly.

But it isn’t easy to identify those initiatives. Why? First, many evaluation systems only use financial indicators to judge nonprofit merit and quality (e.g., % of budget devoted to administration). Fiscal accountability is important, but it only gets at how agencies operate. Second, resources to help Americans make nonprofit choices don’t always do a good job of differentiating among diverse initiatives. Disparate activities are often lumped in a generic category, such as “Fighting Poverty.”

We need to be inquisitive and discriminating, first, then declarative and active, next. Volunteer. Serve on a committee. Become a board member. Make targeted financial contributions to projects with high impact. Endow a program to make a long-term difference.

I’m more convinced than ever—thanks, in part, to reading Evicted—that we must speak openly and passionately about shifting primary emphasis in this country from relief to remediation. Then we must act.

As Political Actors. Nonprofit initiatives are important, but local, state and national-level policies represent the cornerstone of transformation. With that in mind I very much like Desmond’s proposal—to expand the housing voucher program (pp. 308ff).

Sadly, though, poverty isn’t a primary concern politically in this country — and it hasn’t been a primary concern for nearly a half century. That’s why we don’t have the policies we need to attack poverty aggressively.

What a difference that is from the America of my youth! Poverty was on the national radar screen in the 1960s: we had a “War on Poverty.” Then the focus shifted substantially—from a progressive stance emphasizing commonwealth to a neoliberal ethic accentuating individual achievement.

“Capitalism … /has been celebrated/… not only as a wealth-generating engine,” David Brooks wrote recently, “it also … / became/ … a moral system, a way to arouse hard work, creativity and trust.” The creed? Focus on what you can get for yourself. “Everyone else can take care of themselves.”

The political rhetoric shifted correspondingly, too, from a Kennedy-esque “what I can do for my country” to cries for cutting taxes, shrinking government, and trimming regulations—three pillars of The Reagan Revolution. We hear those same cries today.

For decades, neither major political party made poverty a priority—even though data have shown clearly and consistently that a good share of America is being left behind. It’s the same in this election cycle. Poverty has been an off-and-on topic, mostly off, and sometimes back on, largely as a result of external pressure.

In September The New York Times Editorial Board published an opinion piece entitled, “The Failure to Talk Frankly About Poverty.” Hillary Clinton followed with plan to help America’s poor, but that plan was evaluated as lacking when compared to what other Western countries have done and are doing (e.g., Great Britain).

Part of the challenge is the way political parties go about their business. They use a routine I call “The Three P’s”Philosophy, Policies, and Programs. Party partisans talk about values they hold (Philosophy), the legislation they’ve enacted in the past and are pending today (Policies), and initiatives they’ve funded or intend to fund (Programs). Data and expert opinion are used to support the contention that America is “better off” (or at least improving) because of the party’s work. Then, on the flip side, party partisans use the Three P’s to argue that America has been hurt by what the other party stands for, has done in the past, and proposes to do in the future.

This either-or routine is patently familiar, the stuff of which stump speeches, party platforms, and candidate-authored Op Ed’s are made. That routine is connected intractably to what Desmond writes about poverty on pp. 316-17. For Conservatives the poverty narrative is mostly about individual deficiencies (e.g., having children out of wedlock). For Liberals the focus is largely on structural forces (e.g., loss of manufacturing jobs).

Desmond proposes another way of framing the poverty debate, a way that makes more sense to me as a Progressive—not just substantively, but morally as well. He sees poverty as a relationship involving poor and rich (emphasis added):

To understand poverty…I needed to understand that relationship. This sent me searching for a process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process.” (p. 317)

Desmond’s approach acknowledges that we (not just “they”) have a problem. It emphasizes our collective responsibility to serve the public good. And it’s a much-needed antidote to neoliberal self-centeredness.

How might we help that type of thinking grow and bear fruit? The first step is creating broader awareness of what’s going on—to become “Desmond’s Disciples,” as it were. But spreading the gospel won’t be easy. Survey data reveal that a majority of Americans (almost 70%) believe that people are responsible for their own welfare. And over 70% of those surveyed are pessimistic that poverty can be eliminated—even if the government made poverty a high priority.

Because change won’t come easily, I believe in approaching change as a political endeavor. What political acts might we take? Here are several examples.

Host a reading circle in your home with Evicted as common reading. Better yet, contact your local library and offer to organize a reading group in your community.

Write an Op Ed about Evicted for your hometown paper. Describe what’s going on in America and discuss its implications. Follow that up by writing a series of pieces about poverty, the plight of people, and what we can do—as everyday Americans and as a country—to address it.

Become knowledgeable about poverty-related legislation that’s before your state legislature and Congress. Identify representatives who support or oppose policies that lift people out of poverty. Endorse those who do. Volunteer to work on their campaigns. Speak out against those who don’t support poverty legislation. A good way to express support and oppose is by writing Letters to the Editor of your hometown newspaper.

Affiliate with local, state, and national-level poverty-focused organizations. Work with others to advance a political agenda that addresses poverty directly.

The bottom line: Do what you can and as much as you can. Lives hang in the balance.

If you think that interpretation is an exaggeration, consider what Jennifer Senior wrote in her review of Evicted:

“How can you hang on to a job, send your child to school, or build roots in a community if you are constantly changing homes, each one more dilapidated and dangerously located than the next?”

Repeat those words to anybody who questions your activism.

Would they want to live their lives that way? Certainly not. If they did, would they want others to care about them? Probably yes.

We should care about those who live this way—today, right here, in America. And we should do something about it.

So let us.

[1] SYNOPSIS (from “Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is a sociological study of evictions, housing, and homelessness in Milwaukee. The book follows the lives of a number of tenants and landlords in order to examine how access to housing affects the poor. Desmond also includes historical background, statistics, and research findings to provide context for his narratives…. /The study shows that/…eviction is hugely disruptive, and those who are evicted face loss of property, intensified poverty, and an erosion in quality of housing. Evictions also disrupt jobs, and may increase depression and addiction. It’s not only that poverty contributes to housing precarity; housing precarity contributes to poverty. Moreover, a home can spell the difference between stable poverty, in which saving and advancement are possible, and grinding poverty, in which one staggers from crisis to crisis.”



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Readers’ Forum—Lou Hinman



We all know things that we can’t “prove”.  I know, for example, that the killings and beatings of unarmed black men by the police and prison guards are not “the appearance” of racism, nor are they exceptions, mistakes, or isolated incidents.  They are part of a racist culture, and they terrorize entire communities.  Furthermore, they are meant to do this, and the bi-partisan political establishment — the ultimate enablers of the police — want us to be afraid.

I was part way through Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond when I came across the op-ed “Why Don’t You Just Call the Cops?” that Desmond co-wrote with Andrew Papachristos in the New York Times.

They showed, by a statistical analysis of 911 calls, that there was a drastic reduction of such calls to the police from the black community in Milwaukee in the period following a front-page story covering the savage and unprovoked beating of a black man by on- and off-duty Milwaukee policemen in 2004.  The police chief of Milwaukee, Edward Flynn, dismissed their findings — attributing the decline to a glitch in the 911 system.  But Desmond and Papachristos showed that it was not all 911 calls that declined — only 911 calls to the police!

Desmond and Papachristos are in the tradition of courageous activist intellectuals and writers like Franz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre (The Wretched of the Earth), Rosa Luxemburg (The Accumulation of Capital), Otto René Castillo (Apolitical Intellectuals), Émile Zola (J’Accuse), and Fred Newman (philosopher and independent political activist), who have used their scientific training, their analytic skills, and their literary gifts (always at some personal risk) to expose the fallacies, obfuscations, and outright lies of the political establishment and their official apologists and “explainers”.

As for Evicted, it exposes how slum housing (whose value should have long since been depreciated to zero in any reasonable system of accounting) is a source of large profits for the banks that hold the mortgages, and how the poorest Americans are kept in a state of poverty, dependence, and insecurity by paying most of whatever income they have to keep a decaying roof over their heads.

It also shows how some of the more  privileged and enterprising members of poor communities are coopted into this exploitative system, becoming small-time landlords themselves, while they fulfill a larger purpose as enforcers for the banks.

Evicted also suggests how, in lieu of decent affordable housing and jobs at living wages, government subsidies for the poor (the “safety net”) keep the poor marginal and powerless, and simultaneously subsidize the landlords and banks that profit from their misery.  (If you want to learn more about this in horrifying detail, be sure to see Daniel Hatcher’s important new study, The Poverty Industry.) 

But probably the most important thing to say about Evicted is that for those of us who have never been without a place to sleep at night, it paints a vivid picture of what such a life is like for the human beings who live it.

Lou Hinman is an independent activist living in New York City.


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EVICTED–an overview


Matthew Desmond in his office in Cambridge, MA. Sept. 10, 2015. 



Poverty and Profit in the American City

By Matthew Desmond

 Below is an overview of the book, prepared by the publisher that I thought would be of interest as you are reading the book, or reviewing the book as you think about our conversation with Matthew Desmond on October 23rd.

From Harvard sociologist and 2015 MacArthur “Genius” award winner Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America.

Today, poor families are facing one of the worst affordable housing crises in generations. Many are spending almost all they have to live in decrepit housing in our cities’ worst neighborhoods. What it means to be poor in America today is to be crushed by the high cost of housing and evicted when you inevitably fall behind.

In this groundbreaking book, Harvard sociologist and 2015 MacArthur “Genius” award winner Matthew Desmond takes us into Milwaukee to introduce us to eight families on the edge of eviction. 

  • Arleen is a single mother trying to raise two boys on $628 a month. After falling behind on rent, Arleen receives eviction papers and sets off into the coldest Milwaukee winter on record to find her family a new home. Eighty-nine calls later, she’s still looking.
  • Crystal, eighteen and fresh out of foster care, lets Arleen and her children stay with her even though she doesn’t “know them from Adam and Eve.” After repeatedly calling the police on behalf of a neighbor being abused by a boyfriend, Crystal and Arleen are both evicted. Crystal turns to prostitution to survive before turning back to her church family.
  • Vanetta, a devoted mother of three with no criminal record, participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut, sending her children into homelessness and Vanetta to prison.
  • A gregarious single father who serves as taskmaster and confidant to adolescent neighborhood boys, Lamar tries to work off his rent by performing odd jobs for his landlord.  A wheelchair bound double-amputee, he crawls through empty apartments, painting cracked walls and praying for strength. His story ends in tragedy.
  • Doreen Hinkston and her desperately poor but tight-knit family prepare to welcome a new baby into a home so rundown and dirty they refer to it as the “rat hole.”
  • Scott, a gentle night-shift nurse turned heroin addict, loses his license and middle-class lifestyle.  He moves into one of Milwaukee’s worst trailer park, where getting drugs is as easy as asking for a cup of sugar. Scott hits rock bottom before trying to get clean.
  • A grandmother who falls behind in rent after paying her gas bill because she wanted to take a hot shower, Larraine is evicted by sheriff deputies and her things confiscated by movers.
  • Pam and Ned are evicted from their trailer when Ned is on the run from the law and Pam is eight months pregnant.

The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords.

  • Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, evangelizes to her fellow landlords about the money that can be made on Milwaukee’s decaying North Side, saying “the ’hood is good.” She shows occasional kindnesses to her tenants, but says, “Love don’t pay the bills.”
  • In his twelve years at College Mobile Home Park, Tobin Charney has learned how to pull profit out of 131 dilapidated trailers. He takes home more than $400,000 a year running one of the poorest trailer parks in Milwaukee.

As Desmond lived alongside Arleen, Scott, and Lamar, he was also conducting a groundbreaking study that collected and analyzed years of novel statistical data about poverty, housing, and displacement. And what he found is that for the poorest families in America, eviction has become routine, and its effects are devastating.

  • Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, millions of Americans are evicted every year because they can’t make rent. In 2013, 1 in 8 poor renting families nationwide was unable to pay all of their rent, and a similar number thought it was likely they would be evicted soon.
  • Poor people’s incomes have slumped, housing costs have risen, and federal policy has failed to bridge the gap. As a result, today the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates more than 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on. Housing assistance does not come close to meeting the need. Three in four families who qualify for assistance receive nothing.
  • Eviction affects the old and the young, the sick and able-bodied. But for poor women of color and their children, it has become ordinary. Among Milwaukee renters, more than 1 in 5 black women report having been evicted in their adult life, compared to 1 in 12 Hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women.  In poor black neighborhoods, what incarceration is to men, eviction is to women: a common yet consequential event that pushes families deeper into poverty.  Poor black men are locked up; poor black women are locked out.
  • Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.  It can cause workers to lose their jobs, prevent tenants from benefitting from public housing, and push families into substandard housing in undesirable parts of the city. It can also drive people to depression—even two years after the event, evicted mothers experience significantly higher rates of depression than their peers—and, in extreme cases, even suicide.
  • Many landlords won’t rent to families with children, and children themselves can provoke eviction.
  • The poor risk eviction if they report housing problems to the city or even if they call 911, especially when reporting domestic violence.
  • Eviction affects the communities that displaced families leave behind. For example, Milwaukee neighborhoods with high eviction rates have higher violent crime rates the following year, even after controlling for past crime rates and other relevant factors. 

Fixing this problem won’t be easy, but it is well within our nation’s capacity. 

Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The ability to work, get an education, provide for one’s children, stay sober and healthy: it all requires stable shelter. We’ve affirmed provision in old age, twelve years of an education, and basic nutrition to be the right of every citizen. Housing should also be seen as a fundamental human need because without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.

Low-income families on the edge of eviction have no right to counsel. But when tenants have lawyers, their chances of keeping their home increase dramatically. Establishing publicly funded legal services for low-income families in housing court would be a cost-effective measure that would prevent homelessness, decrease evictions, and give poor families a fair shake.

Extending the right to counsel in housing court would not address the underlying source of America’s eviction epidemic: the rapidly shrinking supply of affordable housing. A universal housing voucher program would carve a middle path between the landlord’s desire to make a living and the tenant’s desire, simply, to live. Every family below a certain income level would be eligible for a housing voucher.

A universal voucher program would change the face of poverty in this country. Evictions would plummet and become rare occurrences. Homelessness would almost disappear. We have the money to fund such a program; we just choose not to. Each year, we spend three times what a universal housing voucher program would cost on homeowner tax breaks, which mainly benefit families with six-figure incomes.

Eviction encapsulates in a single, hard moment the depths of our nation’s poverty, the brokenness of our housing policy, and the human costs of a crisis caused by low incomes and high rents. This moment, when the ramifications of the crisis are felt most acutely, also offers a window into extreme poverty, economic exploitation, and human perseverance. Look at eviction and you arrive at a bigger truth: the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

Matthew Desmond is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Co-Director of the Justice and Poverty Project. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, he is the author of the award-winning book, On the Fireline, coauthor of two books on race, and editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. His work has been supported by the Ford, Russell Sage, and National Science Foundations, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. In 2015, Desmond was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant.

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Reader’s Forum–Ramon Pena


It’s an honor to write a small piece after reading the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. I have read many books but none has hit as close to home as this one. Why? Because I was evicted from my apartment in 2014 after 20 years of living there. Never a missed rent or late payment. I was evicted because of greed.My neighborhood was changing and rents were skyrocketing. My landlord had a legal maneuvering to get rid of me and my mother. He had no pity for us. We even got a sheriff notice to leave the premises.

I ended up in one of the worse shelters in New York City I became depressed and angry. I was disappointed  by my Democratic Political leaders. The party of the poor turned their backs on me. I spent 2 years in a system that was meant to keep your spirits down. Daily fights, drugs, prostitution, was the program of the days in that shelter. I could write a book about it and one day I might.

I eventually gave up on a system that really was not designed to help the homeless. I left to another state. The state of New Jersey.In less than 3 weeks I found something. A small studio which I can can afford and call mine.

I want to thank Matthew Desmond for this book, it’s real and gritty the way life really is.

Again thank you for being a voice of the homeless and evicted.

Ramon Pena is a long time independent activist, currently living in New Jersey.

ramonRamon, with family and friends  in his apartment in Perth Amboy, NJ


Politics for the People Conference Call

With Matthew Desmond

Sunday, October 23rd at 7 pm EST

Call In Number: 641 715-3605

Access code 767775#

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