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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Gentrification – Consequences, Impacts, & Eviction

For a background on the themes discussed in this article, check out Part I of this two part series on gentrification, Gentrification – Understanding & Context.

The Ongoing Debate Over Gentrification

The implications of gentrification—rising housing costs and changes in neighborhood culture—have a range of impacts for those it affects, and it is often very difficult to determine if gentrification is good or bad. Often the positive effects of revitalizing poor neighborhoods exist alongside the negative, and this is where the surrounding gentrification originates.

There are many positives from gentrification: the rising popularity of a neighborhood increases amenities, with additions of modern green spaces, remodeled subway stations, and essential community centers, like libraries and recreational facilities. Heightened popularity and surging demand for housing also raises property values, augmenting overall neighborhood wealth. Meanwhile, hype attracts more stably-employed and better-educated residents, increasing the quality of local schools, reducing crime, and increasing the tax base, further allowing beautification projects and educational investment. These are wonderful assets for neighborhoods that have often struggled with securing a strong tax base, that have failed to provide basic infrastructure to residents, and that have struggling public school systems.

In recent years, the Lower East Side of New York has gentrified dramatically. The area now features a whole foods and many trendy restaurants and coffee shops.

In recent years, the Lower East Side of New York has gentrified dramatically. The area now features a Whole Foods and many trendy restaurants and coffee shops. CC Image courtesy of David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons.

However, all these benefits are also offset by a slew of downsides. Primarily of concern is the increase in property value seen with gentrification. These rising property values often set off a chain reaction of negative consequences for the neighborhood’s original residents. With drastic changes in home values, neighborhoods become less and less affordable for their long-term residents with spiking rents; meanwhile, increasing property values may tax-out homeowners with limited incomes. Pushed out of their own neighborhood, former residents—those that made the neighborhood so desirable and culturally distinct in the first place—move out, relocating to areas without community ties and support. In these more affordable neighborhoods, there may be heightened crime rates and other societal ills, leaving former residents with a reduced quality of life. Furthermore, with their displacement, the modern amenities and reduction in crime seen in their former neighborhood are left to be enjoyed by those who gentrified the area. Although some may argue that gentrification helps the “ghetto”, those who resided there fail to even profit from the positive aspects of gentrification. Simultaneously, the process also leads to an indisputable degradation in culture, tearing intricate and culturally distinct communities apart. As new groups flood in, the old guard is exiled with increasing property values, taking their cultural uniqueness with them. The irony here is that those who created the “hip neighborhood” to begin with—the community that so many gentrifiers “appreciated” for its particular uniqueness—leave, taking their culturally distinctive characteristics with them. All that is left behind is the culture of the gentrifiers themselves.

Clearly these complex consequences of gentrification, both positive and negative, add a layer of intricacy to the discussion. However, the debate is especially complicated and heated because of the impossibility of separating issues of race and class from the process. It is the wealthy, and typically white, that flock into the neighborhoods of the moment, dislocating low-income, long-standing residents, usually immigrants and people of color. Given the economic and racial implications of gentrification, as one writer stated, perhaps arguments and discussions about gentrification are really “about who deserves to live in a city” and who does not (Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker).

The complexities of race, class, and ethnicity add a particular intensity to the topic and are imperative to consider during debate.

Gentrification in Madison

These issues have been raised and contemplated here in Madison, WI. During my time in Madison, several new luxury apartment buildings have been constructed, including Hub Madison, The James East, Ovation 309, and other sparkling properties around the capitol. In 2013 alone, there were “$347 million worth of new development in the city of Madison” and “nearly two-thirds, some $223 million, [were] apartment projects”(Mike Ivey, The Cap Times). These figures are astounding considering that in St. Paul, Minnesota’s 2nd ward, which is similar in composition to Madison’s downtown area, there was only $91.4 million worth of total development in the same year (Pioneer Press). Thus, the sudden large supply of luxury rentals in a concentrated area of downtown seems a bit concerning. And, the price of these new rentals is astounding, especially considering that Madison is a city that is distinctively populated by college kids and lower- and middle-class locals.

The view down University Ave. in Madison before the construction of Hub Madison and The James East.

What is driving this residential development? With the influx of increasingly well-employed young professionals into the Madison area, especially with the recent shift of the region to a tech and start-up hub with the likes of EatStreet and Epic calling the Madison area home, there has been increasing demand for downtown housing. With well-educated and well-funded young professionals seeking access to nightlife, work, and leisure in “hip” neighborhoods, areas like Willy Street, Tenney-Lapham, North-East Campus, and East Washington Street have become increasingly popular (Mike Ivey, The Cap Times). And like with most cases of gentrification, the increased demand for residences in these neighborhoods has been driving monetary and cultural change in these regions.

Epic Systems has been hiring many young professionals who are seeking residences in the downtown Madison area. CC Image courtesy of Mandy Aalderink on Wikimedia Commons.

Property values and rents have been rising in the downtown area and many advocates are concerned that these changes will begin to push longtime residents out. For instance, a recent draft report from Madison’s Housing Strategy Committee has found that “as rents rise and vacancy rates fall, even moderate-income households are [now] being priced out of Madison’s rental market.” It states that “nearly half of Madison renters are now considered ‘housing cost burdened,’ meaning they are paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income to their landlord” (Mike Ivey, The Cap Times). With rising rent burdens, many lower-income renters may have to look outside their neighborhoods for more affordable options as young professionals flood in. For instance, single mother Life Hardyman is concerned she will be unable to find an affordable home in her former neighborhood after a brief absence from the city—her previous apartment’s rent had inflated over $300 since she first moved to Williamson Street several years ago (Nathan J. Comp, The Isthmus). These steep increases in rent may push many out of their original neighborhoods.

At the same time, the cultural uniqueness of the hip and now gentrifying areas are at stake with cost spikes. In the Willy Street neighborhood, long-term residents speak of the demographic shift that is coupled with the area’s gentrification. Now Willy Street is “so desirable it’s become dominated by white, educated, alternative-types with means” and “[it’s] morphing into a socioeconomic mono-culture” (Nathan J. Comp, The Isthmus). Others have concerns over Madison’s State Street area, where gritty college locales have been increasingly replaced with minimalist store fronts, trendy coffee shops, and expensive grab-and-go restaurants.

The pricing and cultural shift in Madison is concerning, however, many of these changes have also brought positives into the neighborhoods. Violent crimes are down to their lowest level in 15 years, with only 209 crimes per 100,000 persons (US News). Amenities have increased, like a new central public library and spacious grocery stores. State Street and East Campus Mall are cleaner and more modern. The benefits are astounding.

Yet, we must ask the question, who is benefiting from these developments? Long-term or new residents?

San Francisco’s Mission District attracted young professionals in the last 10 years with its funky murals and distinct culture. CC Image courtesy of Jay Galvin on Flickr.

Gentrification & Eviction

It is integral to consider how gentrification and its consequences may impact eviction rates. Although evictions have remained relatively constant in Madison despite rent increases, an article published by the New York Times found that nationwide, evictions soar with rent increases. For instance in San Francisco, despite being under rent control, rents in the gentrifying Mission District have ballooned. Studios are going for nearly $3,000 a month; one bedrooms for nearly $4,000 (Carol Pogash, The New York Times). At the same time Mission District eviction rates have spiked and many locals were forced to relocate. On the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project‘s graphic of San Francisco evictions, the Mission District is in red—the worst.

In Milwaukee, where this year’s Go Big Read text, Evicted, is focused, gentrification, and thus rent hikes, are occurring as well. These cost changes may be contributing to evictions. From 2010 to 2013, evictions increased 10% in the city (Shaila Dewan, The New York Times) while 12.1% of the city’s lower tracts gentrified (Joe Peterangelo, Public Policy Forum Blog). Given that gentrification and eviction disproportionately affect lower-income neighborhoods, it seems convincing that the rise in evictions and the simultaneous gentrification of low income regions are related. Although Milwaukee’s rate of gentrification is minimal in comparison to figures seen in other major cities, it does give cause for concern if the trend continues gaining momentum.

Milwaukee’s Bayview neighborhood has gentrified in recent years. CC Image courtesy of Fox6 Milwaukee on Flickr.

Conclusion

Obviously gentrification is a complex issue in American cities today. It is important to consider the many intricacies of the matter and discuss the topic with an open mind as it continues to occur throughout our diverse neighborhoods.

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Gentrification – Understanding & Context

Gentrification – Understanding & Context is Part I of a two part series on gentrification and its consequences. Stay tuned for Part II: Gentrification – Consequences, Impacts, & Eviction.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification is the process by which more affluent people (generally demographically young and white) settle in an urban neighborhood (typically populated by low-income residents and people of color), pushing property values and housing costs up and driving a complete change in neighborhood character and culture. The dramatic rise of housing costs and the overwhelming shift in neighborhood personality often drive low-income, long-time residents out of their own community.

Gentrification is a term that is oftentimes is “used negatively, suggesting the displacement of poor communities by rich outsiders” (PBS). Many critics go so far as to liken the process of gentrification to colonialism, the well known practice in which one group subjugates another, displacing the ‘lower’ group in the process (Zak Cheney Rice, .Mic). Although many aspects of gentrification do seem to mirror colonialism, and many label the process as a driving force behind the dissolution of culture,  “the effects of gentrification are complex and contradictory, and its real impact varies” (PBS).

A History of Gentrification

Gentrification is a distinctly modern phenomenon, first recognized in the later half of the 20th century. It has truly come to the forefront in urban areas in the last 25 years.

British sociologist Ruth Glass described the process in 1964, noting the sudden influx of middle class, young professionals into the London neighborhood of Islington, an area that was known for its working class roots and West Indian immigrant population (Steven Thomson, Curbed). Playing off the term “gentry”, Glass encompassed the current concept of the process into a single word, “gentrification”, instilling into the phrase both high-class connections and allusions to change.

Aerial view of the Olympic Park and the Stratford neighborhood of London, which has undergone major redevelopment and gentrification in recent years.

Aerial view of the Olympic Park and the Stratford neighborhood of London, which has undergone major redevelopment and gentrification in recent years. CC Image courtesy of EG Focus on Wikimedia Commons.

Although Glass developed the idea of gentrification in London several decades ago, the term still applies to many portions of the city. London in recent years has seen the revitalization, so to speak, of many city center locations and regions on the fringe of the urban core, with more and more educated, young business professionals seeking easy access to work and nightlife. The neighborhood of Shoreditch in East London experienced a massive wave of gentrification in the past ten years and there has been significant backlash against rising property values and living costs. Many locals have been pushed out, and the particular East London grittiness – which Shoreditch was always known for – has been replaced by trendy coffee shops and even a cold cereal bar. My own former neighborhood of Stratford, another East London locale, seems to be on the same track. Stratford—where I lived from January 2016 to June 2016—is one of the best examples of a modern age “melting pot”. The region transitioned from an industrial hub in the mid-1900s to an ethnically diverse enclave with an impressive mixture of cultures and nationalities. Still today, walking down the street you will find diverse cuisines and people of all backgrounds. However, gentrification had already begun before my arrival, particularly with the development of the area in lieu of the 2012 Olympics. With more modern structures came influxes of educated, young professionals and measurable change. Even in conversation with my former boss, who lived there only a few years before me, it is evident that Stratford has changed dramatically: dingy old sectors have been razed, malls have been built, a new tube station designed, ethnic gems destroyed, and crime reduced. In attempts to court whiter and more affluent young residents, new, modern buildings and amenities are constantly under development. As a result, housing prices have risen and many locals are being forced further eastward. Like Shoreditch, the neighborhood is in jeopardy of losing its cultural diversity due to soaring housing costs. However, at the same time, many residents, both new and long-term, are heralding some changes: nearly all regard the addition of green spaces, development of reliable transportation, and reduction in violence, as a positive, making the area is better for everyone. Yet, these positives are often times at odds with the negatives associated with gentrification in the region. The complex story of Stratford highlights the diverse and often times dueling consequences of gentrification.

The Lower East Side, a traditionally Jewish neighborhood, was one of the last portions of Manhattan to gentrify.

The Lower East Side, a traditionally Jewish neighborhood, was one of the last portions of Manhattan to gentrify. CC Image courtesy of David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons.

In the United States, as well, gentrification has been a strong force in the later half of the 20th century through recent years. The origins of gentrification are often found in the 1960s during the push for renewal throughout urban areas and the ongoing drive to cut crime and revitalize poorer neighborhoods of cities. The removal of blighted buildings, the addition of modern conveniences, and the decline of violence and drug use not only made neighborhoods throughout American cities better for their own residents during this time period, but also attracted outsiders (Nyesha Zenetta Maughn).

In New York for instance, over the course of the late 20th century, crime rates dropped dramatically—today, crime is at only 19% of its 1990 level (Thomas Rogers, Salon). Coupled with redevelopment of lower Manhattan and other districts, the affluent began to flock to the city, building up nearly every corner of the island. Areas like SoHo, the Lower East Side, and Flatiron are what they are today—sophisticated hubs for culture, shopping, dining, and living—because of stronger policing tactics and strategic urban renewal projects. The urban revitalization and crime abatement obviously had major positive effects for the city and the new residents. However, what happened to lifelong residents as their rent prices began to soar? What happened to their communities and distinct cultures as the new moved in and the old moved out? Given these complex consequences, many have asked if it is possible to make neighborhoods safer and more modern, without attracting more affluent residents and threatening specific cultural enclaves (The Dirt, Aaron King).

SoHo developed rapidly after an influx of educated professionals and artists in the 1990s.

SoHo developed rapidly after an influx of educated professionals and artists in the 1990s. CC Image courtesy of Fuzzy Images on Flickr.

But, then again, perhaps reduction in crime rates and the push for redevelopment was not the sole factor contributing to gentrification in major cities from the 1990s until today. In fact, a “1976 study by the Urban Land Institute”—even before crime rates declined and renewal peaked—”found that nearly half of the 260 cities [surveyed] with a population over 50,000 had undergone gentrification” (Steven Thomson, Curbed). Therefore, gentrification seems to have appeared in cities before major changes in the urban landscape occurred. This possibly suggests that there was a preference shift for the American middle class and the young. It seems that in the 1960s, educated, young professionals and artists had “an increasing desire for the kind of cultural and intellectual pursuits which are generally found only in the central cities—performing arts, museums, libraries, seminars, etc.” (Steven Thomson, Curbed). Their shift in priorities led them to move to cities, driving demand and rent up, displacing locals.

The Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg was representative of the working class roots of the neighborhood in the mid 1900s.

The Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg was representative of the working class roots of the neighborhood in the mid 20th century. Since then, many young professionals have flooded into the area. CC Image courtesy of David Shankbone on Wikimedia Commons.

Whether a push for urban renewal, the reduction in crime rates, or the shift in young professional housing preferences, there is no doubt that gentrification was and still is pervasive. Gentrification has been widespread in locations such as San Francisco, which has the highest housing prices in the country; the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn; and Boston (Zak Cheney Rice, .Mic). In Williamsburg, rent prices have soared over 75% since 1990, with costs on average increasing 6.8% per year (Jessica Dailey, Curbed). To put this in perspective, when my grandmother grew up in Williamsburg in the 1940s, her parents’ 3-bedroom garden-level apartment would have cost roughly $900 in today’s real money. In 2017, a 3-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg goes for $4,000. This increase in housing costs seems excessive to many.

What’s Next?

Clearly gentrification has historically had widespread impacts in terms of housing costs and displacement of people and culture in urban places—and these impacts continue today. However, what has yet to be explored is how gentrification perhaps impacts our own community and the people we met in Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted.

More to come on these topics next week in Part II: Gentrification – Consequences, Impacts, & Eviction.

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

Williamsburg, Brooklyn is ubiquitous with gentrification.

The Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn is ubiquitous with gentrification. CC Image courtesy of LWYang on Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

Seeking Go Big Read Book Suggestions Once More

Here we are again. It seems like it was just yesterday that we were scanning “Best of 2015” book lists, reviewing community suggestions, shuffling through book reviews, and sifting through various paperbacks at breakneck reading speeds all in hopes of finding the next Go Big Read book. Through all this arduous research and reading, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond was ultimately selected for the 2016-2017 Go Big Read text, in hopes of connecting the UW-Madison community through a thought-provoking read backed by campus-wide programming and curricular integration. We watched Chancellor Rebecca Blank and Bucky Badger hand out copies of Evicted at Convocation in September to bright-eyed freshman; we witnessed 220 classes read and discuss the book; and we met Desmond in-person on his November 1st campus visit.

However, even though we still have an entire spring semester of celebrating and reading Evicted, which was recently named on the New York Times‘ and Washington Post‘s Best Books of 2016 lists, it’s time to start thinking about the future again.

We now need to select the 2017-2018 Go Big Read text and we need your help. We ask for your suggestions, recommendations, and support as we go through the latest review process, because at the end of the day this is a common read program—it’s driven and supported by the greater UW-Madison community, and therefore, your input is integral to the program’s success.

Go Big Read book suggestions are now being accepted!

Go Big Read book suggestions are now being accepted!

This year we are looking for a book on a contemporary theme that lends itself to discussion. Considering all that is going on in the world today, there are so many important issues to discuss and cover. A broad-reaching theme for the 2017-2018 text is key to hearing from all the subjects of importance.

If you have a text in mind or want to read about the criteria we use in selecting a book, you can learn more here. If you are ready to suggest a book, please submit your nomination using this form. We will be accepting suggestions until January 22, 2017.

We want to hear from you and we can’t wait to see what you recommend!

 

Morgan Olsen

Go Big Read Student Assistant 

 

Cover photo: Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison

Links between Race & Eviction in Dane County

On the UW campus, the lunch hour tends to be a sacred refuge from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It’s a beloved time to sit and relax for students, professionals, and professors alike—an hour of time carved out between classes, studying, grant writing, emails, or intensive research to enjoy a pb&j, a food cart delicacy, or a State Street find. I often find myself chatting with a friend with pork buns in hand on Library Mall, relishing in the moment I have to forget about the stress of my day.

Pedestrians stop to purchase lunch or a quick snack from a number of food vendor carts set up along a walkway in Library Mall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during autumn on Sept. 30, 2010. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

The lunch rush at the food trucks on library mall. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

However, last month, professors, students, and community members sacrificed this meal time for a very worthy cause: to learn more about the eviction crisis in Dane County.

Evicted in Dane County: A Panel Discussion on the Relationship Between Eviction and Housing Vulnerability, an event co-sponsored by the UW Department of Urban and Regional Planning and the Go Big Read Program, was held in Memorial Union on Thursday, October 27. Over the lunch hour, the panel provided an opportunity to discuss the interconnections of race and eviction in our own backyard. Speakers included Rob Dicke, the Executive Director of Dane County Housing Authority (DCHA); Brenda Konkel, the Executive Director of the Tenant Resource Center (TRC); Heidi Wegleitner, District 2 County Supervisor and attorney at Legal Action of Wisconsin; and Mitch, an Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of the Neighborhood Law Clinic (NLC) at UW-Madison.

The panel was held in lieu of recent findings of a study by six UW-Madison graduate students and Revel Sims, an assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. The Dane County study, titled “Evicted in Dane County, Wisconsin: A Collaborative Examination of the Housing Landscape” reflected similar findings to the Milwaukee Area Renter’s Survey (MARS), which was conducted by Evicted author Matthew Desmond. Sims et al.’s research overwhelmingly found that “race is the most important factor in explaining evictions in Dane County,” with “most non-white neighborhoods showing rates well above the county average” (Doug Erickson, madison.com).

The study resulted from a collaborative effort between Sims and his students and the Tenant Resource Center (TRC) this past summer. The team interviewed and worked with key actors, like lawyers and tenants, and also accumulated eviction data in Dane County from the past 15 years. With such intensive and well-rounded research, the work provided significant insight into the Madison rental market and eviction situation on the basis of race and income.

Dane County, Wisconsin.

Dane County, Wisconsin.

Sims and his team found that there were 40,439 eviction court cases in Dane County from 2000 to 2015 alone, with an average of 2,527 cases per year (Evicted in Dane County, Wisconsin). Among these evictions, the top six block groups (“neighborhoods” so to speak) leading in eviction rates were among those with the most proportion of minority residents. As Wisconsin Public Radio shares, nine out of ten of the “most nonwhite neighborhoods in the county have an eviction filing rate well above average for block clusters between 600 and 3,000 people” (Avory Brookins, WPR). For instance, the block named Allied Drive, which is on the southwestern edge of Lake Monona, had the second most evictions in the 15 year period, with a total of 1,215 evictions; Allied Drive also had the second most non-white population, with 78.04% of the residents identified as non-white. Meanwhile, neighborhoods like Southdale/East Badger Road and Leopold claimed the seventh and eighth highest eviction rates in the city—between the two alone, there were 1,550 evictions in a 15 year period. Like the Allied Drive neighborhood, Southdale and Leopold blocks were also overwhelmingly non-white in population, with the second and third most non-white residents in the Madison area, respectively.

The sight of an eviction notice is more common for people of color than whites in Dane County.

The sight of an eviction notice is more common for people of color than whites in Dane County.

Most upsetting, however, is how the research notes not only the ongoing positive correlation between eviction and race, but also how eviction may provide a means to upholding neighborhood racial segregation. As the researchers explain, “block groups with the greatest number of evictions are often found directly adjacent to block groups that have some of the highest percentages of non-white residents”. This may suggest that “eviction may serve as a means to ‘police’ the boundaries between different communities and thus contribute to the overall pattern of racial segregation” (Evicted in Dane County, Wisconsin).

At the event, panelists delved deeper into the report’s findings and discussed the real world realities of overwhelming non-white evictions in the Madison area. Konkel, of the TRC, witnesses the housing difficulties of people of color first hand, sharing that her organization serves “50 to 60 percent people of color in [its] programs”. However, as she notes, considering Dane County is only around 15% non-white, the figures suggest that housing instability unjustly affects people of color more than whites (Avory Brookins, WPR). Her reality firmly supports Sims et al.’s data.

Eviction in dane county panelists

Panelists share their insight to the eviction situation in Dane County on October 27, 2016.

Meanwhile, panelists also grappled with the causes of non-white eviction levels. Some pointed to the unjust advantage landlords have in the legal system. Panelist Wegleitner said “the state court system’s online database, known as CCAP, is ‘a huge problem’ for many people trying to find housing because landlords often use the information to screen potential tenants” (Doug Erickson, madison.com). Eviction notices tend to be problematic because they remain in the system, visible to future landlords, even if the case was dropped or thrown out. This can lead to long-term housing difficulties for tenants, especially those of color who are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system; housing becomes more tenuous and eviction more likely. Other structural and social issues can also push people of color into poverty and, as a result, high levels of eviction.

Overall, Sims and the panelists shared that they were not surprised that the housing system is racially biased. As Sims shared in his own words, “we have a long history of racism in housing in this country” and “some of our most important legislation emerged to prevent it.” However, “to think it has gone away because of the 1968 Fair Housing Act[,] is ludicrous.” (Doug Erickson, madison.com).

Clearly much work still needs to be done to change the nature of the housing market for the better, especially here in our own backyard.

For more information on Revel Sims and his students’ findings, please check out their study, here.

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

(Cover photo credit: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr)

 

Art and Go Big Read: How Curriculum, Creativity, and Evicted Intersect on Campus

This week Wisconsin School of Business students and the Go Big Read program partnered to harness art as a means to further investigate the ideas presented in Go Big Read social justice texts. The result was 20 unique pieces of art, aimed to address social issues.

LEAD students creating their prints in Wheelhouse Studios.

LEAD students creating their prints in Wheelhouse Studios.

LEAD focused on printmaking as a way of securing social change, in partnership with the Go Big Read program

LEAD focused on printmaking as a way of securing social change.

Students part of the LEAD Course: Principles in Leadership, Ethics, Authenticity, and Development (an introductory program for freshman students directly admitted to the Business School) throughout the  semester have “engaged in social entrepreneurship projects aimed at helping solve societal problems” (Angela Richardson, Program Coordinator). One of the main focuses of the course was the integration of Go Big Read texts Just Mercy and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Art created by LEAD students in partnership with the Go Big Read Program.

Art created by LEAD students.

Reading these texts as part of their curriculum, students were asked throughout the semester “to make an effort to identify the major themes and important takeaways” of the books, as they related to social justice and inequalities (bus.wisc.edu). Noting striking statistics, imagery, and more, “the information [students] gathered and the ideas they generated were then used as inspiration” for the artistic project.

Earlier this week, in Memorial Union’s Wheelhouse Studios, all this prep and brainstorming came to fruition. Drawing on inspiration from historical and current social justice movement posters and evoking their own knowledge from the texts, all 120 students implemented their creativity, collaboratively hand-making 20 beautiful posters.

The project not only allows “students to practice a set of skills that are useful in both business and in life – collaboration, analysis, communication, leadership, creative thinking, and empathy, among others [–]” but, it also gives first year students the opportunity to grapple with challenging social issues like mass incarceration and housing instability in American today.

thumbnail_img_0176

Art created by LEAD students in partnership with the Go Big Read Program.

Furthermore, “by working together in small groups to design and create their own posters, they add their voices to the on-going dialogue around these issues”, contributing to a more aware and concerned campus community (bus.wisc.edu).

We are eager to see what the next set of LEAD students creates in partnership with the Go Big Read program!

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

So You’ve Read the Book – What Now?

Whew, it’s been a busy semester. Over ten thousand students and faculty on campus have read and discussed “Evicted” in their classes and at book discussions, Matthew Desmond’s Author Talk has come and gone, and the Go Big Read program is already thinking about selecting a book for next year (if you have a suggestion, submit it here).

Despite all this (or perhaps because of all this), the end of the semester should not mean the end of the discussion or, more importantly, the action. A number of programs both national and local exist that are helping people who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing eviction as well as groups that work to advocate for affordable housing across the country.

For example, here in Madison, the Tenant Resource Center provides counseling and mediation for people being evicted along with other resources. They are willing to train volunteers to work as housing counselors, helping people with questions on rental rights and responsibilities. Mediators and assistance with office administration are also welcome.

Porchlight is another Madison-based program that provides housing and support services to people experiencing homelessness. They have a number of volunteer opportunities requiring varying levels of commitment, from occasionally helping with the maintenance and upkeep of Porchlight housing properties to working with guests who are applying for jobs and housing.

The Dane County Salvation Army, which runs a shelter and food pantries along with providing support services, is always looking for volunteers to help serve a meal, mentor a child, or stock the food pantry. Organizations can also host food or school supply drives while individuals with graphic design skills are needed to assist in creating marketing and outreach materials.

These are just a few of the many organizations working in Dane County (not to mention the rest of the country) that are in need of funds and support in order to continue working to improve the living conditions for families and individuals. For a more complete list and links to websites, check out the “Get Involved” page of the “Evicted” Research Guide.

 

Morgan Sederburg

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Program

Reliving Matthew Desmond’s Visit

Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, visited this past Tuesday, November 1st, giving eager students, faculty, and community members an informative and engaging presentation.

The much anticipated keynote event for UW’s 2016 Go Big Read program had motivated people to claim their spot in line as much as two hours before doors opened.Ready with tickets in hand, guests quickly congregated in the entrance, main hall, and lobby of Memorial Union, waiting for the doors of Shannon Hall to open. Others also awaited at several livestream locations across campus and the Madison area, eager to hear the UW alum speak, and, still more, enthusiastically awaited the start of the livestream feed from the comfort of their own home, with laptops in hand.

The line to enter Shannon Hall looped around the corner in the hall of Memorial Union. Enthusiastic UW senior, Maddie Colbert, gives the camera a thumbs up.

Enthusiastic UW senior, Maddie Colbert, gives the camera a thumbs up as she waits to enter the theatre.

The crowd was excited when UW Chancellor Becky Blank took the stage to introduce Desmond. She noted on the broad reach of the program, with over 225 participating classes, and the overwhelming response the text has received. As she shared, “Matt shows the devastating consequences of eviction” and she warmly welcomed him onto the stage. Desmond himself took to the podium, with clicker and slides ready, to share his experiences and research with the crowd.

Becky Blank introduces Desmond at the Go Big Read 2016 Keynote.

Becky Blank introduces Desmond at the Go Big Read 2016 Keynote.

Desmond framed his lecture with the story of one of the eight families he worked with while in Milwaukee, the story of single-mother Arleene and her two sons, Jori and Jafaris. Coupled with compelling images and revealing statistics, he explained that Arleene is not alone with her housing struggles. Like many other low income families, she spends at least 80% of her income on rent, leaving her and her children with little to none for other living necessities like food and clothes.

One of Arleene's homes in Milwaukee.

One of Arleene’s homes in Milwaukee.

Desmond emphasized how eviction affects the young and the old, the sick and the able-bodied alike. Recounting how Jafaris got mad and violent with a teacher at school, prompting a police visit to their home that nearly ensured her an eviction, Desmond highlighted the wide grasp eviction has on all parts of life.

While on stage, the author also touched on the long term consequences of eviction. Given that all evictions are recorded and publicly visible on the Wisconsin Court public records database, finding a home thereafter is nearly impossible. Arleene herself called nearly ninety apartments before one finally accepted her application. The link between mental health and housing stability was discussed, too. Desmond alerted the crowd to the increased rate of depression among mothers following an eviction, and the rising rate of suicides.

The author stressed throughout his presentation that one’s home is the center of life, a refuge from work, school, and the menace of the streets. It’s where we play and retreat; it’s where we settle down. The word for home in different languages evokes warmth, family, and community. Eviction, he asserted, can cause the loss of all of this.

The issues discussed were heavy and disheartening – what can be done to change the crisis? Desmond closed his talk with a call to action, with hope for the future of the housing landscape. What if all families had housing? Kids could be fed, kept off the street and in their schools; parents could better maintain a stable job and healthy environment for their children.

He directed the audience to his organization Just Shelter, where all may stay informed and get involved with organizations working to fight this problem. He encouraged students to get involved with organizations on-campus, such as Habitat for Humanity, or those off campus, such as Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Project and Fair Housing Center of Greater Madison. His hope that as years pass, we come to hate poverty, eviction, and homelessness more and more and for all of us – students, faculty, and community members alike – to participate, continue discussion, and actively work to correct this issue that directly affects the very communities we live in.

 

Ana Wong

Intern, UW-Madison Libraries & Go Big Read Program

(Cover photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

H(O)me: Understanding Opioid Addiction and Housing Consequences

Earlier this month, an unlikely pair, President Barack Obama and rapper Macklemore, teamed up to address an increasingly dire issue in America: opioid addiction. The two appeared on the South Lawn in promotion of an MTV documentary, “Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis,” that addresses the overwhelming epidemic of opioid drug abuse in the US today, which ranges from the abuse of pain killers to heroin to Fentanyl (Sandra Gonzales, CNN). Within the film, the pair and recovering addicts share their own experiences with drug use in hopes of educating millennials about the consequences of addiction and to dissuade all of opioid abuse.

This new documentary and presidential focus on opioid addiction stems from the increasing abuse of opioids in the past 10 to 12 years. Since 2000 there has been a 200% increase in opioid related drug overdoses across the country. In certain regions, including Appalachia, New England, and the Southwest, these numbers are even more dramatic. For instance, based on a New York Times inquiry, New Mexico has been dramatically hit by the issue, where there were 27.3 opioid related deaths per 100,000 in 2014. This figure compares to the national average of 14.7 opioid related deaths per 100,000 in the same year. What’s most shocking however, is perhaps how both of these numbers contrast to the figures we saw only ten years ago: opioid related overdose deaths have increased more than 2 times since 2003, when there were only 6.2 opioid related deaths per 100,000 (cdc.gov).

Not only has abuse increased, but the demographics surrounding opioid addiction has dramatically changed. In the 1980s and 1990s opioid use was equally split between racial minorities and whites and was often focused in urban, inner city areas. Today, use has morphed—as President Obama highlights, “the opioids crisis is getting into communities that are suburban, that are relatively well to do, rural communities, white communities” (Sandra Gonzales, CNN). The new faces of opioid and heroin addiction are mostly suburban and rural whites from lower-middle class to upper-middle class families.

us_timeline-_prescription_opioid_pain_reliever_deaths

The graph indicates the number of deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers, not including non-prescribed opioids like heroin, in America the last 15 years.

The overall increase and shift in demographics leads many to conclude that prescription pain-killers are to blame. Often easily offered to middle class suburbanites, drugs like Hydrocodone and Oxycodone have become over-prescribed. This over-access to narcotics has provided a stepping stone to addiction and possibly spurred the opioid epidemic as a whole. As Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has highlighted, “prescriptions for powerful painkillers have risen to the point that there’s enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills” (Alexandra Sifferlin, TIME). This is astounding, especially when considering that other countries—where drugs like Vicodin are not readily prescribed—tend to witness lower opioid abuse levels. In the United States around 6% of Americans practice opioid use while countries with more restrictive practices (where only 0.5% of the population has a prescription to use) see a mere 2% use level. In fact, the US, which constitutes only 5% of the world population, receives a whopping 80% of the world’s prescription opioid supply (Michael Zennie, The Daily Mail). The prescription levels of narcotics also correlates to increased abuse of opioids on the state level.  For example, states like West Virginia and Tennessee in Appalachia and Nevada and Utah in the Southwest see both above average narcotic prescription rates and large amounts of opioid abuse and overdose (Haeyoun Park and Matthew Bloch, The New York Times). In West Virginia, for instance, there were around 120 prescriptions written for opioids in 2014 for every 100 people; meanwhile, in Minnesota, a state that has remained largely removed from the opioid epidemic, there were only 60 prescriptions per 100 (cdc.gov).

Outside the data, average Americans are taking notice of the opioid epidemic, too. In recent years, the drug abuse issue has become more visible to the public both in terms of neighborhood visibility and national media coverage. For instance, most millennials today are able to identify a friend or relative that has abused opioids in some capacity. Nationally, much attention was given to the premature passing of pop star Prince, who overdosed on Fentanyl this summer. This increasing visibility has been quite acute for my own hometown of Chanhassen, Minnesota, where within a year the community grieved the loss of both a beloved classmate and a local leader, Prince, to opioid overdose.

Prince overdosed on Fentanyl this summer in his Paisley Park studio in Minnesota.

Prince overdosed on Fentanyl this summer in his Paisley Park studio in Minnesota.

The visibility of opioid use itself has reached previously unprecedented levels, especially with heroin. The New York Times notes users openly abusing heroin in public spaces, like on city buses or even in fast food bathrooms, while leaving children unattended (Katharine Q. Seelye, The New York Times). Many average Americans are experiencing opioid addiction and abuse right before their eyes.

The opioid epidemic is also recognized in our own community in Wisconsin. As the Badger Herald explored last winter, many UW-Madison community members have struggled with opioid addiction and the state as a whole has witnessed increased opioid use and overdose in recent years. As the graphics below demonstrate, heroin cases in Wisconsin have increased from 2009 to 2014 in over half of the state’s counties; the number of counties with 30 or more cases related to heroin has jumped from a mere 4 in 2009 to a whopping 11 counties in 2014.

2009 Heroin Cases by County in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Dept. of Justice.

2009 Heroin Cases by County in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Dept. of Justice.

2014-heroin-cases-by-county-wisconsin

20014 Heroin Cases by County in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Dept. of Justice.

As the Herald explains, often times abuse can have serious and unexpected consequences, affecting almost every aspect of one’s life. Mentally, addiction can lead to depression, and possibly brain damage. If untreated, these debilitating outcomes of abuse can influence a wide range of important life factors, including the ability to keep employment, sustain personal relationships, or attend school. Meanwhile, on the flip side, the instability of addiction often leads many to lose their income and the support of friends and family members. Frequently this loss of financial and emotional support comes at the worst time, plummeting many further into addiction. One can see how these factors create a vicious and debilitating cycle of abuse. Other consequences of addiction include family dissolution and the removal of children from the home, aggression and violence, lack of appropriate diet and nutrition, and the establishment of unstable and toxic drug-based relationships.

However, one particularly serious consequence of opioid addiction is housing instability and homelessness. Often times many users are left without the proper income to maintain their home, pay utility costs, or pay their often unjustly high rent costs. This consequence of opioid addiction was seen first hand in Evicted, this year’s Go Big Read book by Matthew Desmond. The portrait of Scott demonstrated the debilitating consequences of drug abuse—his opioid addiction led him, like many others, to housing instability.

Many residents of XXX Trailer Park on the South Side of Milwaukee faced opioid drug addiction.

Many residents of College Mobile Home Park on the South Side of Milwaukee faced opioid drug addiction.

Scott started off his opioid problem like many Americans: with a prescription to Percocet after an injury. Wisconsin, like a majority of states, has a middle of the road opioid prescription level, with roughly 75 narcotics prescriptions per 100 people (cdc.gov). It was standard enough for Scott to receive the opioids, but unfortunately, he was soon hooked. Within the first few weeks of taking the medication, he started to look at the doctor as a “treasure […], like a bartender who pours to the rim”(Evicted, p. 83). He returned often to refill. However, once the M.D. announced his retirement, Scott went into a panic; he needed Percocet to cope with both his physical and emotional pain and he didn’t know what he would do without it. As the Badger Herald explains, this progression of use to abuse is common. Painkillers like Percocet can be extra addictive because they not only create a euphoric and relaxed feeling, but cause the body to stop producing natural levels of dopamine, the “happiness” chemical. For people who are taking a prescription for a few weeks, like Scott, “the body stops producing dopamine and the medication ends up as the body’s only source” of the needed chemical (Emma Palasz, The Badger Herald). The body ends up requiring the opioid to produce any dopamine. Thus Scott, depressed and in need, turned to alternatives: he first purchased painkillers from his nursing home patients and eventually abused Fentanyl, the same drug that killed Prince.

fentanyl is part of the opioid epidemic in america

Fentanyl, the drug Scott abused, is part of the opioid epidemic in America.

His Fentanyl addiction became all consuming and came with consequences—Scott lost his nursing licence and thus flow of income. He was then evicted from his upscale apartment on the East Side of Milwaukee. Discouraged and hopeless, Scott checked into The Lodge, a shelter, and eventually moved into the mobile home park with his friend Teddy (Evicted, p. 84). In the park, he found many fellow addicts and began abusing methadone pills and later heroin. Upon eviction from the park, he continued on a road of temporary and unstable housing and the cycle of sobriety, relapse, and addiction.

It was only after Scott was able to find a permanent and stable residence that he was able to kick his drug addiction completely, highlighting the strong connection between opioid abuse and housing precariousness. Although he still did not have his nursing license or a set income, he was able to find assistance through the Guest House, a shelter, that provided him with $600 a month for rent and furnishings for his new apartment. As he explains, in the trailer park in his sub-standard housing, he felt stuck, like there was no hope. In his new space, “[he] felt affirmed, deserving of something better” (Evicted, p. 280). Scott was able to get back on track, writing out a 5 year plan that included getting his nursing license back.

As the story of Scott and Evicted demonstrates, the opioid epidemic and housing instability go hand in hand. Although Scott’s story began with opioid abuse, which later led to eviction, often times eviction itself can lead to a string of terrible consequences that pushes many to drug abuse. Either way, eviction is a painful and destabilizing reality that many face. Those that have been evicted have a 15% higher chance of being laid off than workers without displacement. Those that have experienced eviction face 20% higher levels of material hardship than those that have not. Those that have been forced to move are 25% more likely to experience future housing instability (Evicted, p.294-5). It is apparent that eviction has dire consequences for many that lead to severe instability and possibly homelessness. As such, whether an opioid abuser or not, home displacement contributes to the desire for escape and fosters an environment that is conducive to addiction. Unfortunately, both opioid abuse and eviction in a sense play into one another.

However, hopefully with increasing measures to curb both the opioid epidemic and eviction levels in America, needed changes with both abuse and displacement are to come. It was recently announced that MARS, Desmond’s own innovative and effective survey for measuring eviction, will be integrated into HUD’s national American Housing Survey, providing meaningful understanding about eviction on a national level. Meanwhile, President Obama and legislators have been pushing strongly in the past year to combat opioid addiction, passing major legislation last spring to help curb the epidemic. Hopefully, change will come on both fronts.

 

Morgan Olsen

Student Assistant, Go Big Read Program

 

Getting Ready for Matthew Desmond’s visit

The Author Event for Go Big Read is fast approaching. In just over a week, Matthew Desmond himself will be on campus to speak about the themes in his book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, along with his continuing work on the housing and eviction issues facing the United States today.

Evicted follows the stories of eight families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, over the course of a year and a half as they struggle find housing, pay rent, and provide for themselves and their loved ones. According to Desmond, the number of formal evictions that occur each year has soared over the last sixty years. These numbers become even higher when one factors in other “forced moves” that result from other circumstances that tenants don’t consider to be evictions. These involuntary relocation has severe consequences not just for the family itself, but also the larger community.

Desmond’s talk will take place next Tuesday, November 1, in Shannon Hall in Memorial Union at 7:00 pm.

If you are planning on driving in for the event, we recommend the public parking ramp at Lake and State streets for easy access to the venue (1.5 block walk). For other parking locations, please consult the campus map. If you are dropping off or planning on parking very close to the Union, make sure to use Park St. – Langdon St. is closed for construction.

For accessible access to Shannon Hall, please enter Memorial Union from either the west entrance on Langdon Street or the northwest entrance on Park Street, near Helen C. White hall and the beginning of the Union Terrace.

Also, please remember that Memorial Union’s east wing is currently under construction. For more information on how this may impact your evening, please see here.

Tickets for the event sold out at record speed at the time of release – all tickets are currently sold out. However, there are some fun alternatives to still be a part of the author visit event:

  1. Stand-by line – There will be a standby line at Memorial Union the night of the event should people still wish to attend. Entrance to the event will depend on venue capactity and unclaimed seats.
  2. Live webstream – For those who are unable to attend in person, Desmond’s talk will be livestreamed via a link on the main page of the Go Big Read website. You may enjoy Desmond’s talk from the comfort of home!
  3. Live stream watch events –  There will be a handful of watch events streaming the live feed around campus and in the Madison area on the night of November 1. Locations include Madison Central Library, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and College Library, to name a few. For more information on these watch events or to find one near you, please visit our events calendar.
  4. Watch online– A recording of the event will be uploaded on our site in the hours following the event for anyone who may have missed the livestream.

Please let us know if you have any questions about the event or any of the watch alternatives via email.

By Morgan Sederburg

Struggles between Landlords & Tenants in Los Angeles

The subtitle of Matthew Desmond’s book, “Evicted,” is “Poverty and profit in the American city.” This serves as a reminder that although the book itself focuses on housing issues in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, struggles over rent are happening all across the United States. Most recently, tenants in an apartment complex in Highland Park are facing mass eviction as the new owners of the building look to renovate units and increase rents in an effort to capitalize on the flow of higher-income residents to the quickly-gentrifying neighborhood.

Desmond brings up the concept of tenants organizing and protesting evictions in the prologue of his book, noting that historically, such reactions were common responses to these events (Desmond, 3-4). However, as time went on and eviction rates increased, this community action happened less and less. By 2008, when Larraine was calling various programs for rent assistance, Desmond notes that she “did not dial the number to a tenants’ union because Milwaukee, like most American cities, didn’t have one” (Desmond, 112).

Because their building, Marmion Royal, was built later than many of the other buildings in the area, it was exempt from the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which would have limited rent increases to 3% per year and required owners to pay for the relocation fees incurred by residents who were evicted for renovations. Because of this, tenants are organizing, blocking renovation efforts, and reaching out to tenants’ unions (Los Angeles is one of a few cities that does have such organizations) in nearby neighborhoods. This action has encouraged more conversations between the landlords and tenants and, while it is yet unclear what the outcome will be, the whole situation is an interesting example of housing conflict that not featured as prominently in “Evicted.”

Read the full story from the L.A. Times here.

Written by Morgan Sederburg