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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.

 

Shipping Inmates Out of State

A recent article from The Marshall Project discusses the hardships that families go through as states are shipping parts of their inmate populations to other states in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding in their correctional facilities. The four states that currently engage in this practice are Hawaii, California, Vermont, and Arizona, and the U.S. Virgin Islands send their prisoners to U.S. states as well.

The portions of the inmate populations from these states that get shipped away end up in areas in Michigan, Arizona, the Mississippi Delta, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. According to the article, “often, the best-behaving prisoners — those with no disciplinary record, escape history or medical issues — are the most likely to be sent far from home,” usually ending up in “facilities run by for-profit companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group.”

This is an issue for families of the inmates who want to visit their loved ones, only to have to pay travel fees to the out-of-state facilities that are anywhere from $1000 and up (usually for those who are from Hawaii, at least).

The sign outside of a Corrections Corporation of America location. Inmates who are shipped out of state are often housed at CCA private prisons.

The sign outside of a Corrections Corporation of America location. Inmates who are shipped out of state are often housed at CCA private prisons.

This practice also has important ramifications for the facilities in the towns and cities to which these inmates are sent. The article states:

When the people of Lake County, Mich., the poorest county in that state, learned that their local prison might reopen to accept inmates from Vermont, many were thrilled. The state representative there and the executive director of Michigan Works, a jobs program, both sent letters to Vermont officials pleading for the contract to be signed.

Now that the facility has opened for business, Lake County Commissioner Dan Sloan said unemployment has plummeted from double digits to about 7 percent in less than a year. “We’re seeing more use of our facilities, gas stations, retail, everything,” he said.

In Sayre, Okla., where California sent hundreds of inmates until last year, City Manager Guy Hylton said that having prisoners from out of state “was a miracle for a town like ours, there’s no other way to put it. Commissary purchases were one of our largest sources of sales tax, and the utilities that the prison paid for were like…having a whole other city here in our city.”

While this practice has rejuvenated the economies of several of the towns and cities where these inmates are now being shipped, this has not been the case across the board. The article discusses a specific example at a prison in Mississippi, stating that “for those living in the Delta’s poverty, the prison has been a false promise. ‘That prison should be to the Delta region what Toyota is to North Mississippi: a big economic deal,’ said Johnny B. Thomas, the mayor of Glendora, a nearby town. ‘But the corporation is taking all the proceeds while our children’s schools are falling down.'”

There are currently over 7,200 inmates that are sent to correctional facilities outside of their states, but a few other states are also considering adopting this practice (Washington state and North Dakota, to name two), so this number could easily rise in the coming months. States engage in this practice because it essentially “solves” two problems at the same time: shipping inmates out of state helps alleviate overcrowded prisons in-state and it is also less expensive.

The article goes on to break down the differences in cost between sending an inmate out of state versus housing them in a facility in state:

Hawaii pays CCA about $70 a day to house each inmate at Saguaro, compared with an average of $140 a day for an inmate at any of the four prisons back home. In Vermont, an out-of-state prison bed costs about $62 per day; in-state, the price tag is $162. For the U.S. Virgin islands, the choice is between as little as $67 on the mainland, versus $150 on the islands. (California’s complicated budget picture makes it more difficult to make a similar comparison.)

Even though states are saving money by engaging in this practice, it is the families of inmates who are shipped out of state that are paying the consequences.

To read the full article, entitled “The Prison Visit That Cost My Family $2370,” click here.

The featured photo for this article is of the town of Eloy, Arizona, where Saguaro Correctional Center is located. Saguaro is where many of Hawaii’s inmates who are shipped out of state are housed. Photo taken by Raquel Baranow in 2009.

ASPIREist Features Clint Smith

ASPIREist is a new half-hour reality feature news show. Each episode has three features ranging a wide variety of topics. The purpose of the show, according to its website, is to “empower 21st century viewers to take action on issues that matter.” Each feature ends with a way for the viewer to take action about that particular issue.

The first episode features Clint Smith, a researcher of the intersections between race, education, and incarceration from Harvard University. His feature called “The New Jim Crow,” like the Michelle Alexander book, focuses on issues similar to what Bryan Stevenson talks about in Just Mercy. He talks about the the racial inequality in the criminal justice system, children in prison, and the greater problem of mass incarceration. View the feature below.

One of the show’s other personalities is Shiza Shahid, a previous Go Big Read speaker. To view her features, visit the ASPIREist YouTube page here.

For more information about ASPIREist, click here.

Utah Abolishes Life without Parole Sentences for Children

Earlier this year, South Dakota abolished life without parole sentences for children. Last week Utah passed similar legislation. The new law does not allow people under 18 years old to be convicted of a capital crime to life in prison without parole. The law was passed  because law makers believe those under 18 have more of a capacity for rehabilitation.

Other states to have passed similar laws in recent years are Alabama, Hawaii, Connecticut, West Virginia, Delaware, Nevada, Vermont, and Wyoming. A recent Washington Post article “States are getting rid of life sentences for minors. And most of them are red states” states that approximately 2,500 U.S. prisoners sentenced to life without parole were sentenced as children.

To read “States are getting rid of life sentences for minors. And most of them are red states” click here.

Nixon’s “War on Drugs” was Founded on Racism

Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative have focused their work on the unequally high incarceration rates of African Americans. They argue the criminal justice system favors white people, especially in regard to drug offenses. Now there is proof that the criminal justice system’s drug policy’s were formed with exactly that in mind.

David Baum recently published  and article called “Legalize It All: How to Win the War on Drugs” in Harper’s. For the article he references a 1994 interview with John Ehrlichman, Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief. In the interview Ehrlichman says:  “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” In other words Nixon and his advisors had an idea of how devastating thier policies would be to the African American community. The Equal Justice Initiative explains that the legacy of those policies are mass incarceration of black people and deepening institutionalized racism in the country.

To read more about this click here.

To read “Legalize It All: How to Win the War on Drugs” click here.