Eviction and the Affordable Housing Crisis

December 18, 2013
Eviction and the Affordable Housing Crisis

The cover story for the January-February 2014 issue of Harvard Magazine, “Disrupted Lives,” profiles Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Studies Matthew Desmond, who studies poverty, housing, and eviction.

Poor Americans are facing the worst affordable housing crisis this country has ever seen. As the article explains, a combination of soaring rents, stagnant incomes, and the failure of federal policy to meet growing need has resulted in a surge of extreme rent burden among low-income Americans:    

Nationally, between 1991 and 2011, the number of renter households dedicating less than one-third of their income to housing costs fell by about 15 percent, while the number dedicating more than 70 percent of their income to housing costs more than doubled, to 7.56 million. … “The fundamental issue is this: the high cost of housing is consigning the urban poor to financial ruin.”

The affordable housing crisis is among the most important and pressing problems facing low-income households today. Yet it is also among the least understood. Hoping to change that, Desmond lived for over a year in two of Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods, following evicted families and their landlords; designed original surveys of over 250 tenants in eviction court and over 1,000 renting households; and analyzed tens of thousands of eviction court records.  

Desmond’s research has revealed just how common eviction is in the lives of poor renters, and by linking eviction to a host of negative consequences, it shows that eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.