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Category: Go Big Read 2016-2017: Evicted

Homeownership Tax Benefits and the Affordable Housing Crisis

The website Talkpoverty.org recently published an article that discusses the gap between what the federal government spends on rental assistance programs and homeownership tax benefits. The article states that federal rental assistance programs in 2015 cost the government $51 billion, while “two of the largest homeownership tax programs—the Mortgage Interest Deduction and the Property Tax Deduction—cost $90 billion in 2015.”

The article goes on to state that “households making over $100,000 a year received nearly 90 percent of the $90 billion spent on the two tax programs discussed above. Households making less than $50,000 got a little more than 1 percent of those benefits.”

Low-income households receive even less of a benefit from these tax programs (the article puts the average monthly figure that low-income households receive from these programs at eight cents). This stands in stark contrast to households making over $9 million annually (0.1 percent of Americans) receiving an average of $1,236 per month from the two homeownership tax programs mentioned above.

The article ends with a discussion of how we can make this system more fair for low-income households, including redirecting some of the spending on wealthy homeowners to benefit first-time homeowners, helping low-income households save for a down payment, and other policies that could help put an end to the affordable housing crisis.

To read “The Biggest Beneficiaries of Housing Subsidies? The Wealthy.,” click here.

Wider Impacts of Nuisance Laws on Low-Income Renters

A recent article from NPR (that was also heard on NPR’s show All Things Considered) focuses on the impacts of nuisance laws enforced in cities across America on low-income renters who are also victims of crime and domestic abuse.

Nuisance laws have been instated in cities and towns across the country in an attempt to reduce the amount of crime in communities (but especially in areas with rental properties). The specifics differ based on location, but nuisance laws essentially put a limit on the number of times the police can be called to a rental property (“for ‘disorderly behavior'”) in a specific time period before the property’s landlord gets fined and potentially has his or her rental license suspended.

These laws have very real consequences for tenants of rental properties in communities enforcing such practices. One common outcome of nuisance laws is eviction, which Matthew Desmond discusses in his book Evicted.

The article includes the story of a woman named Lakisha Briggs, who was a victim of frequent domestic abuse and was evicted from her rental property in Norristown, Pennsylvania, after the police were called to her apartment twice. Briggs was always “reluctant to call the police when her boyfriend beat her up” after being told by her landlord that she had had “one strike” after the police were called to her apartment the first time.

However, one night Briggs’s boyfriend “slit her neck open with a broken ashtray” after a fight, prompting the police to arrive and Briggs to be airlifted to the hospital. She was evicted after recovering in the hospital.

Her landlord  told her “he didn’t want to throw her out, but if he didn’t, he’d be fined $1,000 a day” due to the nuisance laws in effect in Norristown.

Nuisance laws have contributed to the evictions of tenants in situations similar to Briggs’s in cities and towns across America.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

Addressing Homelessness and Affordable Housing in Madison

The Wisconsin State Journal’s series on homelessness in Madison includes an article entitled “Madison, Dane County move slowly on big responses to homelessness” that discusses some of the steps taken to address homelessness in the city.

The Dane County Homeless Services Consortium is putting together a “single priority list” in order to “place the most vulnerable [homeless individuals] in public, nonprofit and private housing units” and off the streets. Debra Scott, 57,  “suffered the daily indignities of the homeless and was also in poor health, needing hospitalization and two surgeries, eventually with no place to recover but her 2006 Dodge Caravan. After a year on the streets, she placed near the top on a new community list that prioritizes cases based on the length of time being homeless, disability and the risk of serious harm or death.”

Scott now lives in an apartment on the North Side of Madison, where she pays 30 percent of her income in rent and the Community Action Coalition pays the rest. Scott says, “In my whole life I’ve never, ever had such a place. I absolutely love it here. It’s quiet. People are respectful. There’s no drug trafficking going on. I’m lucky…I’m grateful. I’m grateful every day.”

While Scott’s story is ultimately one of hope, the article goes on to discuss the overwhelming need for affordable housing and opportunities for the homeless to live indoors (not just shelters or on the streets) across Madison.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

 

Displaced Tenants Struggle to Find Housing in Madison

A group of investors recently purchased rental housing units on Madison’s Southwest Side, causing many current tenants to be forced out due to increases in rent and stricter tenant screening, according to an article from Wisconsin State Journal.

The article states that “the new owners took to upgrading the units while also raising the rents and tightening the leasing standards. They told neighbors they intend to turn around a troubled area, and they are doing just that, many say approvingly. Yet the improvements have come with a cost. Many leases have been terminated, thrusting some people, including children, into homelessness.”

Tenants in the Orchard Village Apartments complex were required to reapply at the end of their leases, and many of these tenants have received non-renewals of their leases as a result.

The article touches briefly on the racial inequalities at play in this process, echoing much of what Matthew Desmond observes in Evicted about the racially charged rental market in Milwaukee. One of the women interviewed for the article, who was received a non-renewal of her lease, said “she can’t help noticing that almost all of the tenants not renewed have been black, while the new residents moving in, at least in her building, have been white.” The new owner of the apartment complex has denied this statement.

Not everyone has been critical of the apartment complex’s new owner, however. One tenant, now in her third year living at Orchard Village, said that “I’m liking the changes…things had become really chaotic and a lot of stuff was going on. I had a break-in, and there were shootings.”

The new ownership of many of these apartment complexes on Madison’s Southwest Side will certainly bring many more changes to the neighborhood, potentially both positive and negative.

 

You can read the full article, entitled “Landlord walks fine line between ‘taking back the neighborhood’ and creating homelessness,” here.

Increasing Rent and the Struggle to Afford Rental Housing

A recent article from The Atlantic‘s City Lab discusses a report on the increasing difficulties that many American hourly workers face in affording rental housing. According to the article, demand for apartments in 2015 was at its “highest level ever since the 1960s,” with a myriad of factors contributing to this high demand and subsequent increases in rent, making affordable housing a nearly impossible reality for many Americans.

In order to spend only thirty percent of his or her income on rent, the American worker would need to make $20.30 per hour to rent a (modest/simple) two-bedroom apartment “comfortably” in 2016, according to the article. One of the largest issues in this situation is that the average hourly wage for American workers is $15.42, with the federal minimum wage still sitting at $7.25. The article states that “minimum-wage workers would have to work three jobs, or 112 hours a week, to be able to afford a decent two-bedroom accommodation…’If [an average] worker slept for eight hours per night, he or she would have no remaining time during the week for anything other than working and sleeping.'”

One-bedroom apartments are also not financially attainable for minimum wage workers who put in a 40 hour work week. The article provides maps and graphs showing the hourly wages workers would need to receive in each state in order to afford one and two-bedroom apartments, as well as how many hours they would need to work at minimum wage to afford one-bedroom apartments.

Hours worked at minimum wage needed to afford a one-bedroom unit. Photo from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Hours needed at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom unit. Photo from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In Wisconsin, where Matthew Desmond’s Evicted takes place, minimum wage workers would need to work 69 hours per week in order to comfortably afford (a.k.a. rent does not exceed 30 percent of income) a one-bedroom apartment. As seen in Evicted, it is difficult to work that many hours per week at a minimum-wage job (workers usually are not scheduled for that many hours), not to mention juggling any children, school, or family obligations that the worker might have. This article illustrates on a larger scale the issues of eviction, rent, and poverty that Desmond examines in Evicted and shows how these issues are at play across the country.

You can read the full article, entitled “The Hourly Wage Needed to Rent a 2-Bedroom Apartment Is Rising,” here.

Research Reveals Trends in San Francisco’s Rental Prices

Michael Anderson recently wrote an article for Medium entitled “A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices” in San Francisco. As its title implies, the article discusses trends in San Francisco’s housing and rental prices from the last fifty years by using the research of Eric Fischer.

Fischer discusses his methodology and more about his research here. He essentially sifted through old microfilm and photos of the San Francisco Chronicle in order to gather information about rent and housing costs in San Francisco prior to rent control introduced by the mayor in 1979.

Fischer found that rent has been going up by 6.6% every year (on average) in San Francisco since 1956. He was able to create several charts that visualize this and other factors in San Francisco’s housing costs. Fischer used a formula to create this chart by using three variables, which Anderson describes as: “1. The number of jobs located in San Francisco County. 2. The number of places in San Francisco County for people to live. 3. The total amount of money that is paid to everyone who works jobs in San Francisco County.”

Anderson discusses the implications of Fischer’s research and what it means for the future of San Francisco’s rental and housing markets as well as how other cities in the U.S. might avoid the situation San Francisco is in. Many of the ideas that Anderson proposes are similar to those found in Matthew Desmond’s Evicted.

Read the full article here.

Housing Policies Related to Poverty and Segregation in Milwaukee

Wisconsin Public Radio recently published an article called “How Milwaukee’s Economic Social Disparities Correspond with Gun Violence: Measures of Poverty, Education, Housing Align with City’s Segregation” by Scott Gordon. The article highlights how education, poverty, housing, and urban policies have shaped the neighborhoods in Milwaukee, particularly poor black neighborhoods.

The article includes interactive maps for the zip codes of Milwaukee that show these connections. There are four maps focused on homicides, race and education, mental health professional shortage, and poverty and rent. The poverty and rent map shows, by zip code, the percent of the population living below the poverty level and the percent of renters who spend more than 35% of their income on rent.

To read the article click here.

Eviction Made Easier in Wisconsin

In February, Laurel White, of Wisconsin Public Radio reported that the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that makes it easier for landlords to evict tenants they suspect of criminal activity. Those in favor of the bill argue that it will help landlords evict tenants when police do not investigate the potential criminal behavior. Those against the bill argue that it will hurt low income renters, specifically victims of domestic violence.

To read the bill click here.

To read the WPR article “Assembly Approves Bill To Make It Easier To Evict Tenants Involved In Crime,” click here.

Evicted Book Trailer

Below is the book trailer for the new Go Big Read Book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. A book trailer is a video advertisement for a book which employs techniques similar to those of movie trailers to promote books and encourage readers.

This book trailer gives an overview of what Desmond discusses in Evicted

Watch the book trailer below.

For more information about the book, visit the book’s website by clicking here.

Go Big Read Selects ‘Evicted’ for 2016-17

It’s the story of eight Milwaukee families faced with losing their homes. It’s also a powerful analysis of a little-known epidemic affecting people across the country living in poverty.

“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” the best-selling book by alumnus Matthew Desmond, is the 2016-17 selection for Go Big Read, UW–Madison’s common-reading program.

“This book provides us an opportunity to talk about a little-understood facet of poverty and the profound implications it has for American families, particularly in communities of color,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank says. “I’m proud that an alum has brought this issue to the forefront and I look forward to conversations in our community about this important subject.”

Desmond received his doctorate from UW–Madison in 2010. He is an associate professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard University and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the UW. In 2015, he received a MacArthur “genius” grant.

In his book, he writes that in the early 20th century, evictions in the U.S. were somewhat rare and popularly contested. Now they have become a frequent occurrence for low-income families, especially those headed by black women.

Milwaukee, a city of roughly 105,000 renter households, sees roughly 16,000 adults and children evicted in an average year, Desmond’s research shows. This is equivalent to 16 eviction cases a day.

“Providing stable housing and lowering evictions is a human capital investment analogous to education or job training — one that has the potential to decrease poverty and homelessness and stabilize families, schools and neighborhoods,” Desmond says.

“‘Evicted’ is astonishing — a masterpiece of writing and research that fills a tremendous gap in our understanding of poverty,” says previous Go Big Read author Rebecca Skloot. “Beautiful, harrowing, and deeply human, ‘Evicted’ is a must read for anyone who cares about social justice in this country.”

Go Big Read has a history of choosing timely topics that are part of the national discussion. This past year’s Go Big Read book, “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson, highlights racial inequality and the need to reform America’s justice system. That success offers a bridge to a campus dialogue on Desmond’s central question: “Do we believe that the right to a decent home is part of what it means to be American?”

Initially, “immigration and community” had been chosen as the theme for the 2016-17 academic year, but “Evicted,” with its new insights on strengthening communities and its relevance within and beyond Wisconsin, made it a timely selection, Blank says.

Planning is underway for how students, faculty and staff will use the book in classrooms and for special events. Desmond plans to visit campus and give a talk. Copies of the book will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students, and to students using the book in their classes. UW–Madison instructors interested in using the book can request a review copy.

The Go Big Read program is an initiative of the Office of the Chancellor.