Finally Reading [Sociology Books]

Health insurance rip off lying FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining
Cloning while they're multiplying
Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson
Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson
You're all fakes
Run to your mansions
Come around
We'll kick your ass in

Postby Merciel » Sat May 12, 2018 1:35 pm

Evicted, Part Two ("Out"), Ch. 9: here we start walking through the actual process of eviction. This gets dense, so I'll just do one chapter in this writeup.

Chapter 9 begins with Larraine and a description of her "spotless and uncluttered" trailer, of which she is modestly but fiercely proud, with "white serving utensils to match the white cupboards in her kitchen and a small desk for her old computer."

She spends a while calling every rent assistance program she can think of, but none are any help. The two main state programs are (a) emergency assistance for people with a sudden but temporary loss of income (job loss, sudden illness, divorce, being victimized by crime); and (b) another program that does essentially the same thing, but federally funded and not limited to renters within 115% of the poverty line. These programs are "reserved more for the unlucky -- those who had been laid off or mugged -- than the chronically rent burdened," and even so they're massively inadequate to meet those limited needs. There is no charity or nonprofit available to help people who simply cannot afford to make rent (unsurprisingly, since that would be a singularly terrible solution to this problem), and so Larraine gives up after "dial[ing] all the nonprofit, city, and state agencies she could think of." She settles back to await eviction.

Desmond then shifts focus to an eviction work crew with Eagle Moving and Storage, who work "with two sheriff deputies. The deputies would knock on the door to announce the eviction; the movers would follow, clearing out the home. Landlords footed the bill." The crews see all sorts of things on this job, including lots of junk houses with "mattresses on the floor, grease on the ceiling, cockroaches on the walls," or even "dead animals and rotting food" in abandoned homes. Other times, tenants have already packed up neatly and left before the eviction; the crews have gone into other homes to find them tidied up, with the floors already mopped.

"With this job, you saw things. The guy with 10,000 audiocassette tapes of UFO activity who kept yelling 'Everything is in order! Everything is in order!' The woman with jars full of urine. The guy who lived in the basement while his pack of Chihuahuas overran the house. Just a week earlier, a man had told Sheriff John to give him a minute. Then he shut the door and shot himself in the head. But the squalor was what got under your skin; its smells and sights were what you tried to drink away after your shift."

In one case, the eviction crew finds themselves evicting a group of tenants who are actually totally up to date on their rent -- but are using the property as a drug house. The tenants, four young black men, come home to find the eviction crew at work. One of them "marched straight into the house and quickly emerged cradling a shoebox. He held the box with both arms, the way a running back protects the football when the call is up the middle, then locked it in the Jaguar's trunk," and the crew drove away.

More often, however, the tenants are home, frequently in denial that the eviction is really about to take place, and the crews work around them with the renters still there. The crew evicts one houseful of five kids (one of whom they recognize as the child of a man who used to work on their crew) where the mom died two months ago and the kids just kept on living in the home by themselves.

In another home, the tenant "had been talked into refinancing with a subprime loan. Her payments kept going up, jumping from $950 to $1,250 a month, and her hours at Potawatomi Casino were cut back after her maternity leave." She and her three children get evicted from their stable home of five years. "The eldest child, a seventh-grade boy, tried to help by taking out the trash. His younger sister [...] held her two-year-old sister's hand on the porch. [...]

At first, [the mom] had borne down on the emergency with focus and energy[...] Now she was wandering through the halls aimlessly, almost drunkenly. Her face had that look. The movers and deputies knew it well. It was the look of someone realizing that her family would be homeless in a matter of hours. It was something like denial giving way to the surrealism of the scene: the speed and violence of it all; sheriffs leaning against your wall, hands resting on holsters; all these strangers, these sweating men, piling your things outside, drinking water from your sink poured into your cups, using your bathroom. It was the look of being undone by a wave of questions. What do I need for tonight, for this week? Who should I call? Where is the medication? Where will we go? It was the face of a mother who climbs out of the cellar to find that the tornado has leveled the house."

Intercut with the Eagle Moving crew sections are more sections about Larraine: her backstory (invalid mother, hardworking father, poor but happy childhood in public housing; dropped out in 10th grade after struggling with school and worked in a factory until marrying an abusive man who told her to quit and prevented her from getting a driver's license; eventually divorced him, lived as a single mother for years of "poverty and double shifts and freedom and laughter," which Larraine considered to be "the best years of her life"; a later "consuming, brutal" romance with an alcoholic and addict who was in and out of prison and eventually OD'ed).

Larraine "consider[s] asking her brothers and sisters for help" when facing eviction. She has four: Odessa, "who lived a few miles away and spent her days in a nightgown on a corduroy recliner, watching talk shows next to a lampstand crowded with prescription medication containers. She was on SSI, and wouldn't be able to help even if she were willing, which she wasn't."

There's Beaker, "sixty-five and a heavy smoker who relied on a walker." He lives on SSI too, and his stipend "was even less than Larraine's. He could afford the rent but little else, living hard in a filthy trailer covered in clothes, cigarette boxes and butts, food-encrusted plates, and stray dog shit."

Susan and her husband Lane live "in one of the nicer trailers in the park" but are distracted with their own problems; their granddaughter was born "glowing like a lightbulb" owing to her mother's cocaine addiction, and on top of that, "Susan didn't trust Larraine with money. Susan had once gone weeks without speaking to her sister after learning Larraine had blown a few hundred dollars on a Luminess Air makeup application system advertised on television."

Then there's Ruben, "the blessed child," the only one who doesn't live in a trailer but has a real home. Larraine could ask Ruben, but "asking for help from better-off kin was complicated. Those ties were banked, saved for emergency situations or opportunities to get ahead. People were careful not to overdraw their account because when family members with money grew exhausted by repeated requests, they sometimes withheld support for long periods of time, pegging their relatives' misfortunes to individual failings. This was one reason why family members in the best position to help were often not asked to do so."

Larraine decides to approach her younger daughter, Jayme, who's on a work-release program at Arby's after serving a prison sentence because "she'd had a baby in a toilet and left it there. No one in the family knew why; she was already a mother of a toddler at the time. [...]

When Jayme went to prison, she gave Larraine her car and $500 to care for it. But not long after that, Larraine sold the car and used the $500 to pay a bill. Larraine had done a similar thing to Megan, her eldest daughter, borrowing money and failing to pay it back. This was the main reason Megan had not spoken to Larraine in years. Jayme couldn't hold that kind of grudge."

But Jayme doesn't have the money to help out, either.

Desmond writes: "When the social workers behind the glass asked [Larraine], 'Well, don't you have family that can help?' Larraine sometimes would reply, 'Yes, I have family, and no, they can't help.'"
Last edited by Merciel on Sat May 12, 2018 3:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Merciel » Sat May 12, 2018 1:36 pm

Footnote:

There's a lot to unpack in this chapter, but the main thing I want to note is that here we see, through Larraine, the difficulty with expecting individual kin (and later we'll get to friend) networks to address issues of systematic poverty.

Larraine doesn't have that many relatives who can help, and the ones she has can't really fix her underlying problem, which is that she doesn't have enough income to live, and she probably never will. This isn't a one-time crisis. Charity (whether through family or nonprofits) can help with one-time crises, but Larraine's problem is chronic. She's poor. She can't afford rent. Floating her $500 today is not going to fix the fact that the same problem will recur in two months, and then in six months, and then again the month after that.

What she actually *needs* is either a steady source of better income or a cheaper place to live. Failing that, temporary patches are only temporary and aren't going to relieve the real problem.

And they have corrosive effects. Larraine has to go to her relatives with hat in hand to ask for help, or she can rip them off (as she has done to both of her daughters). In either case, her relatives are likely to perceive her problem as the result of individual failings (if Susan and Ruben have "made it," achieving stable poverty and a middle-class life respectively, why can't Larraine? Because she blows $300 on an "as seen on TV" makeup gimmick, or because she was born into the lower middle class and was handicapped by a learning disability, got injured on the job while working in a factory, and then went through a string of bad relationships?).

It's easy to see the flaws in people you know well enough, and Larraine has her share of flaws. But my main takeaway from this chapter is that most of us don't have the individual ability to actually fix the underlying, persistent problems of poverty -- Larraine's relatives can neither afford to give her a free home nor change her fundamental personal characteristics and then rewind time 30 years to give her another shot at life -- and, whether out of frustration with our own inability to help or their relatives' persistent neediness, we tend to blame the poor for being poor. It's on them. Nothing we can do.

But both of those things are only partly true. Most of the people we see in this book do make bad choices, but (a) they're already operating with no margin for error and suffering outsize consequences for those bad choices; and (b) it's not clear that they had better ones (e.g. every single woman in the book gets involved with at least one man who treats her like complete garbage, but it's not clear there are any better men available to them. They can't ALL just straight-up have terrible taste; at some point, it becomes apparent that there are just not enough good men in the pool. So what do they do then? Stay lonely, or just try to pick the least bad one and hope it works out?).

It's the structures of society that makes these problems seem so intractable. And, on an individual level, they largely are. These are problems in need of collective solutions. Which is why asking individual relatives to help, or going to charities and nonprofits, generally does not suffice to solve them. The problem is bigger than those networks can answer.
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Postby Bartatua » Sat May 12, 2018 2:08 pm

Are you gonna read Origins of the Urban Crisis
i broke somebody's ribs
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Postby Merciel » Sat May 12, 2018 3:03 pm

maybe

I have a copy and started it, but I've read so many of the books that build off of it that going back to the original (at least so far) doesn't feel like it's telling me anything I don't already know.
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Postby Bartatua » Sat May 12, 2018 3:07 pm

Give some of the books that build off it pls
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Postby Merciel » Sat May 12, 2018 3:19 pm

I mean I'm summarizing one of them right now.
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Postby Merciel » Thu May 17, 2018 3:03 pm

Evicted, Part Two, Chs. 9 (cont'd) & 10:

Still in Chapter 9 and still with Larraine facing eviction from the trailer park, we follow Larraine to a local Church of Christ, where she's been a regular worshiper for years.

"'I think one of the biggest shames of Christianity is people that halfway follow Jesus,' Pastor Daryl observed one Sunday. 'A partial commitment is a dangerous way to live... You got neighbors around you that need help. You got people that need helping and need loving and, as Christians, you can be demonstrating that love to them.' During Pastor Darryl's sermons, Larraine would sit still with near-perfect posture, rapt from beginning to end. She loved going to church and had since she was a child.

When Larraine called Pastor Daryl to ask if the church could lend her money so that she might avoid eviction, he said he'd have to think about it. The last time Larraine called, she had said she'd been robbed at gunpoint. Pastor Daryl reached into the church's coffers and gave her a few hundred dollars for the rent. Larraine had been robbed, but not by a stranger with a gun. Susan and Lane's cokehead daughter had broken into her trailer when no one was home. Susan phoned Pastor Darryl to report Larraine's lie.

Pastor Darryl was torn. On the one hand, he thought it was the job of the church, not the government, to care for the poor and hungry. That, to him, was 'pure Christianity.' When it came to Larraine, though, Pastor Darryl believed a lot of hardship was self-inflicted. 'She made some stupid choices, spending her money foolishly... Making her go without for a while may be the best thing for her, so that she can be reminded, 'Hey when I make foolish choices there are consequences.' Helping a poor person with a name, a face, a history, and many needs, a person whose mistakes and lapses of judgments you have recorded -- that was a more trying matter.

[...]

Pastor Daryl called Larraine back and told her that he wouldn't be helping this time."

Desmond then discusses tenants' varying responses to eviction notices. Some (mostly men) are direct in trying to negotiate with their landlords, which tends to serve them better. Nonconfrontational tenants (mostly women) who try to hide from the landlord until they can come up with the money are usually perceived as "ducking and dodging," however, and landlords tend to get irritated by this tactic and evict tenants even if they do eventually come up with the money. (This is what happens to Larraine, who ducks and dodges Tobin until she can get her brother Ruben to loan her money after all -- and who finds that money rejected and her eviction going forward anyway, because Tobin has become so exasperated with Larraine's evasive tactics in the meantime.)

Desmond writes: "Men often avoided eviction by laying concrete, patching roofs, or painting rooms for landlords. But women almost never approached their landlord with a similar offer. Some women -- already taxed by child care, welfare requirements, or other obligations -- could not spare the time. But many others simply did not conceive of working off the rent as a possibility. When women did approach their landlords with such an offer, it sometimes involved trading sex for rent."

(Desmond does not observe, although he might have, that to the extent that such offers could be construed as prostitution, they put female tenants in a much more legally precarious position, in addition to exacting a generally higher psychological toll than the "honest" work of roofing or painting demands. There's an inequality there on a number of levels.)

Soon after Larraine gets evicted, a professional property management company -- Bieck Management -- takes over the trailer park. Many of the longtime tenants regard this development with grief and horror, as Bieck is fair, professional, and evenhanded. In other words, the flexibility and informal arrangements that Tobin accepted, such as letting tenants work off some of their rent when they can't come up with cash, are about to vanish. For the mostly poor tenants of the trailer park, this is disastrous.

We leave Larraine as her trailer is emptied out by Eagle Moving and her belongings carted off to their warehouse for storage:

"Larraine would have to find a way to pay her storage bill. If she fell ninety days behind, Eagle would get rid of her pile to make room for a new one. This was the fate of roughly 70 percent of lots confiscated in evictions or foreclosures. Years before, the Brittain brothers had approached Goodwill but were rebuffed; there was simply no way Goodwill could handle that kind of volume. The brothers searched elsewhere. They reached out to metal scrappers. They found someone who would buy the clothing by the bale, turning it into rags. They partnered with people who would rummage through the piles, looking for things to sell. They organized public sales twice a month, each involving ten to forty lots. But most of the stuff ended up in the dump."

Larraine, homeless and stripped of most of her belongings, takes refuge in her brother Beaker's filthy trailer: "He was in the hospital. He couldn't say no." She moves her remaining belongings over and then "sat alone in Beaker's trailer, swatting away fruit flies. She swallowed pain pills, including 200 milligrams of Lyrica. In silence, she let the painkillers work. Once they had, she looked around at the clutter, the foulness, and the pile of things the movers had considered junk. Larraine let out a muffled scream and began punching the couch over and over again."

Chapter 10 takes us back to Lamar, the legless Vietnam vet, and shows us more of the gentle kindnesses and personal warmth he shares with his friends and neighbors. We also see his continuing attempts to work off some of his rent shortfall. Again, he isn't very good at the work, and Quentin, Sherrena's husband, has to do it over again with his own irregular work crew.

We learn about the informal labor system of the inner city: "There was Sherrena's brother, who had a crack habit, or Quentin's uncle, Verne, a gummy-faced alcoholic happy to log hours for beer money. Tenants often asked for work; even Ricky One Leg had been calling. Plus, Sherrena had on call a crew of hypes -- 'jackleg crackheads,' she called them -- willing to 'work for peanuts.' In a pinch, Quentin sometimes recruited men right off the street. It wasn't hard to do with so many men in the inner city out of work." Ex-convicts fresh out of prison, drug addicts, and black men with little education -- all desperate for money and with few prospects for formal employment -- make up "the massive cash-paid labor force urban landlords had at their disposal."

And Lamar, knowing that there's always a "hype" available to do the work cheaper and better than he can manage, has little hope that he'll be able to work off his debt and avoid eviction. The competition is just too desperate, and too vicious, at this level of the labor market.
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Postby Merciel » Thu May 24, 2018 2:02 am

A BRIEF INTERLUDE

I'm going to toss this link up here partly because it's interesting to me as a Philadelphia resident (and amateur sociology student) but mostly because I want to bookmark it and come back to it later when I have time to do a more in-depth discussion of how racism erodes the formation of black wealth: https://nextcity.org/features/view/phil ... mount-airy

East Mount Airy is a historically black neighborhood in Philadelphia that's characterized as a "middle neighborhood": neither poor nor rich, generally stable, generally characterized by high rates of homeownership (so more permanent/less transient than a mostly renter population) but not especially expensive houses (the median house price in this neighborhood was about $96,500 in 2015). This type of neighborhood tends to draw newcomers who can't afford the higher prices around Center City:

"[I]n Philadelphia, three-quarters of the city’s population reversal was in these areas, indicating that many newcomers are indeed choosing them. Between 2000 and 2015, middle neighborhoods as a whole gained residents at a rate of 5 percent, compared to 2 percent across the city. Most of the growth, in part driven by immigrants from Latin America and Asia, is concentrated in Oxford Circle, Fox Chase and other parts of Northeast Philadelphia that already have large populations of Asian and Hispanic immigrants.

But even with so much riding on the stability of these areas, a secure future is far from assured, particularly in middle neighborhoods where more than two-thirds of the population identify as African-American. These areas have not experienced the growth of more diverse or white middle neighborhoods, and there are clear indications that these areas are more vulnerable to changing economic winds and market forces.

“Some of the recent trends indicate growing fragility in [African-American] areas, particularly as they compare to other middle neighborhoods,” says Dowdall. “Falling home prices, mortgage denial rates that are higher than elsewhere and higher involuntary mobility — the term we use for eviction and foreclosure. All of these are indicators of vulnerability.”"

The reason for this is, basically, racism. People want to buy homes in majority white neighborhoods. This is true of almost all homebuyers regardless of their race. The next most popular options are majority Asian neighborhoods, then majority Hispanic neighborhoods. Very few homebuyers coming into a new area want to purchase in majority black neighborhoods unless they have no other options.

Again, this is true of the great majority of homebuyers regardless of their own race -- if you didn't grow up in that neighborhood and you don't have any attachment to it (such as a local expat community that might draw you in with familiar food, networking opportunities, etc.), you probably aren't going to pick it as your first choice. And this is independent of crime stats or neighborhood blight: even when you take those factors out of the equation, fewer buyers want to buy in majority black neighborhoods.

The upshot is that if you own property in a majority black neighborhood (which, SURPRISE, means mostly black people!), your house isn't going to be worth as much as the exact same house would be worth in a majority white neighborhood -- even a poorer white neighborhood with worse crime stats and a crummier public school. Because fewer buyers are interested in competing for it, your house is likely to gain value slower and lose value faster than a white homeowner's, which in turn means that the money you invested in that house will return less over time.

This is one of the ways in which racism actively erodes the formation of black wealth. (The article talks about some of the other ways that happens, but by far the biggest factor is that black neighborhoods are just less desirable because racism.) For most families, the house is the primary asset and the biggest repository of generational wealth, so if your house loses its value, then your family gets markedly poorer.

When I have time to get back to _Evicted_ I'll tie this in with Sherrena's property acquisition strategy and how that further undermines the stability of black neighborhoods. It's sort of bloodlessly fascinating to watch the interlocking processes in action, but then you have to remember that this actually is a major reason that hardworking black families can't get ahead even when they do everything right.
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Postby Merciel » Sat May 26, 2018 2:02 am

Evicted (Part Two, Ch. 11): returning to Sherrena as she makes her rounds collecting rent

Sherrena and her husband Quentin are fabulously wealthy compared to their tenants: "Jamaica had been amazing. Sherrena and Quentin took long walks on warm, white beaches, chartered a glass-bottom boat, and zipped around the Caribbean on Jet Skis. Quentin bought a walking stick and had it engraved. Sherrena got her hair done in two thick braids that met in the back. They had stayed for eight days. [...]

Sherrena estimated her net worth at around $2 million, but equity was icing on the cake. The real money was made in rents. Every month Sherrena collected roughly $20,000 in rent. Her monthly mortgage bills rounded out to $8,500. After paying the water bill, Sherrena -- who owned three dozen inner-city units, all filled with tenants around or below the poverty line -- figured she netted roughly $10,000 a month, more than what Arleen, Lamar, and many of her other tenants took home in a year."

Most of Sherrena's money gets plowed right back into acquiring new properties, because she is relentless in hustling her way to a better life:

"Since the foreclosure crisis, Sherrena had been buying properties throughout the North Side at a rate of about one a month. In some cities, as many as 1 in 2 foreclosures was renter-occupied. The crisis had provided landlords an almost magical opportunity. 'This moment right now,' Sherrena reflected, 'it's going to create a lot of millionaires. You know, if you have money right now, you can profit from other people's failures. I'm catching the properties. I'm *catching* 'em."

'If you have money right now' -- that was the rub. The mortgage sector had shriveled up during the financial downturn [...] If Sherrena couldn't buy a property outright, she financed the purchase in a number of ways. She took out conventional or even adjustable-rate mortgages. When she saw a deal but didn't have the down payment, Sherrena sought out 'OPM' ('other people's money') or 'hard money': shorthand for rich white guys from Brookfield or Shorewood who offered high-interest loans that didn't require any money down but instead placed a lien on the property."

(Bookmark that thought for a second; we'll come back to it.)

"The same thing that made homeownership a bad investment in poor, black neighborhoods -- depressed property values -- made landlording there a potentially lucrative one. Property values for similar homes were double or triple in white, middle-class sections of the city; but rents in those neighborhoods were not. A landlord might have been able to fetch $750 for a two-bedroom unit in the suburb of Wauwatosa and only $550 for a similar unit in Milwaukee's poverty-stricken 53206 zip code. But the Wauwatosa property would have come with a much higher mortgage payment and tax bill, not to mention higher standards for the condition of the unit. When it came to return on investment, it was hard to beat owning property in the inner city."

(Bookmark that thought too, and relate it back to the East Mount Airy piece from the other day. Note that the landlords' interest in this scenario is purely extractive: they don't want to preserve or increase property values, but to *depress* property values so that they can snap up homes at low purchase costs and then use them to extract rent from low-income tenants. This business model actually incentivizes destabilizing a neighborhood and running its property values into the ground, and it has had exactly that effect in many places, which is one of the reasons that there are more American neighborhoods in concentrated poverty now than there were in 1970. If you ever wondered why anyone would intentionally act to worsen a neighborhood, that's one answer.)

In addition to working as a straightforward landlord, "Sherrena had been dabbling in rent-to-own ventures. She would rent one of her more stable tenants a house for six months. During that time, Sherrena would attempt to rapid rescore the tenant's credit. If successful, she would then help that tenant secure a loan for the price Sherrena was asking for the property. The Federal Housing Administration often required only a 3.5 percent down payment, which most working tenants could cover with their tax refund.

Sherrena had seen some of her properties double in value during the housing bubble, and she knew the inflated assessments wouldn't last forever. She was trying to sell a rent-to-own tenant one property for $90,000, a property she owned free and clear, having purchased it at a far lower price. Sherrena would reinvest the cash in more properties, and the new homeowner would inherit a massive debt. Sherrena would say that was better than not owning a house at all.

In years past, Sherrena had marketed her credit-repair-to-home-loan services to physically and mentally disabled people on SSI. 'A whole bunch of those people came and bought houses. They ended up losing them, but the thing is they need to be policed a little more... Wasn't nobody saying, 'Johnny, pay your mortgage!' They just may not have been mentally capable.' They say the foreclosure crisis started on Wall Street, with men in power ties trading toxic assets and engineering credit default swaps. But in the ghetto, all you needed was a rapid rescore coach and a low-income tenant hungry for a shot at the American Dream."

Now let's go back to Sherrena playing with Other People's Money. The essential point I want to make here is that at each level of the predatory chain, the richer party is offloading risk onto the poorer party and rigging the game to create their own win-win. Sherrena's exploiting mentally disabled tenants on SSI; if they lose their bet, she still walks away with the house's inflated purchase price. The "rich white guys from Brookfield," meanwhile, are rigging Sherrena's bet with them: if she loses, they get the house plus whatever she's already paid toward it; if she wins, they get the jacked-up interest on her loan.

And Sherrena, despite her impressively energetic hustling and her occasional mercilessness toward her tenants, isn't actually rich. She's betting on future wealth. All her money is tied up in gambling on expanding her business, and some time after the publication of _Evicted_, she ended up losing everything when her house of cards collapsed.

But you can bet those rich white guys from Brookfield didn't go broke when Sherrena did.
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Postby Merciel » Sat May 26, 2018 2:03 am

Footnote:

There's also a good section on the opportunities and limitations of housing vouchers, which we explore through Ladona, a working single mother with an 8-year-old son who decides to rent one of Sherrena's homes:

"Ladona was eager to move. 'They shoot in broad daylight, right in the middle of the block,' she said. 'We got a hidin' place upstairs. And I'm getting tired of running up there.' [...]

Ladona had a housing voucher. Sherrena and Quentin didn't accept rent assistance in most of their properties because they didn't want to deal with the program's picky inspectors. 'Rent assistance is a pain in the ass,' Sherrena said. Voucher holders made up a small share of the market anyway -- only 6 percent of renter households in the city -- and were not worth the headache. (The 'SSI people,' on the other hand, 'now, *that* is an untapped market,' Sherrena thought.)

Desmond then talks about how rent vouchers are calculated, by averaging the costs of rent in distressed and exclusive neighborhoods across a metropolitan area: "This was by design, so that a family could take their voucher and find housing in safe and prosperous areas in the city or its surrounding suburbs. But the program did not bring about large gains in racial or economic integration. Voucher holders largely stayed put, upgrading to slightly nicer trailer parks or moving to quieter ghetto streets. It could, however, bring about large gains for landlords."

(Desmond doesn't really theorize about why voucher holders tend to stay in the same general neighborhood. It's likely that social ties play some role in keeping them close, and it's likely that feeling out-of-place in a wealthier neighborhood does as well (there are a couple of points in the book where Desmond's interviewees express discomfort at having to venture into neighborhoods that seem designed to exclude them, and where people are perceived as looking down on them). It is also likely that landlords in those areas won't accept rent assistance, or perhaps won't accept those particular tenants.)

Anyway, from there we get a discussion of how the real estate industry lobbied the government to create voucher programs, which enabled landlords to rent apartments to tenants at above-market rates and have the taxpayers pick up the difference. The upshot is that tenants like Ladona do realize some gains -- Ladona gets to move to a safer neighborhood, and her property is in better condition than most of Sherrena's crummy apartments -- but the gains are less pronounced and less efficient than they might have been, and the landlords are the real winners.
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Postby mites » Sat May 26, 2018 2:32 am

2 drunk 2 read rn but I've read a few posts on FB and am happy they are here too

:P
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Postby Merciel » Sun May 27, 2018 1:11 am

I really wonder what the weird disjointed continuity of FB feeds does to these summaries.

At some point I'll get around to crossposting the new ones onto my long-dormant blog and maybe reposting some of the skipped 2017 summaries here.

I'm also going to stick this Atlantic article (the 9.9% one) here just to bookmark it so I can come back to that later when I get around to reposting Dream Hoarders: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... cy/559130/
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Postby Merciel » Fri Jun 01, 2018 2:22 am

Evicted, Part Two, Ch. 12:

We return to Arleen, who, like Larraine, reviews her family ties and finds no one who can help: "Arleen's three brothers and one sister had their own kids to worry about. One brother received SSI; another sold drugs and helped landlords repair properties; the other was out of work. Arleen's sister was trying to raise three kids on what she made as a school bus monitor."

Arleen does have a middle-class Aunt Merva, but "[o]ver the years, she had learned to ask her favorite aunt for help only during true emergencies, and evictions didn't qualify." As with Larraine, her one middle-class relation is both a precious resource that needs to be conserved, and one that isn't powerful enough to alter the fundamental problems of chronic poverty. So, lacking anyone able and willing to assist her, Arleen faces the prospect of homelessness with her two boys.

Salvation comes in the unlikely form of Crystal, the prospective tenant that Sherrena shows Arleen's apartment while Arleen is still there. Crystal "told Sherrena she'd take it. Then she looked at Arleen and told her that she and her boys could stay until they found a place."

Arleen "had so many questions, but it was either this option or a shelter." She accepts, and soon comes to suspect that Crystal extended the offer because she owns nothing but "three garbage bags of clothes -- no furniture, television, mattress, or microwave. Arleen didn't have much, but she had these things and she suspected this was why Crystal had allowed her and the boys to stay."

We're then given an introduction to Crystal, whose backstory and psych eval (from a later chapter, which I'm quoting out of sequence) I'm going to block quote because I think it gets to something important:

"Crystal was eighteen, younger than Arleen's oldest son. She had been born prematurely on a spring day in 1990 shortly after her pregnant mother was stabbed eleven times in the back during a robbery -- the attack had induced labor. Both mother and daughter survived. It was not the first time Crystal's mother had been stabbed.

For as far back as she could remember, Crystal's father had beat her mother. He smoked crack and so did her mother and so did her mother's mother.

Crystal was placed in foster care at age five and had bounced between dozens of homes. She lived with her Aunt Rhoda for five years. Then Aunt Rhoda returned her. After that, the longest Crystal lived anywhere was eight months. When adolescence arrived, Crystal started getting into fights with other girls in the group homes. She picked up assault charges and a scar across her right cheek. People and their houses, pets, furniture, dishes -- these came and went. Food was more stable, and Crystal began taking refuge in it."

[Crystal is morbidly obese, which I footnote because it imposes additional stresses in the context of deep poverty. Crystal destroys Arleen's love seat by sleeping on it for a month, inflaming tensions and resentments between them, since that love seat wasn't cheap for Arleen, but Crystal had to use it because she can't afford a bed of her own. Crystal has difficulty finding clothes that fit, and has to go to church with her pants open down the front because she can't get them closed, which obviously imposes some social costs, particularly for someone as emotionally fragile and sensitive to perceived humiliation as Crystal. Desmond never comes out and says it outright, but it's pretty clear that, in these and other ways, Crystal's eating disorder exacerbates her other issues.]

Skipping ahead to Chapter 17 to get some more background:

"Crystal could quickly turn violent. The year before she met Arleen, Crystal had been examined by a clinical psychologist who diagnosed her with Bipolar Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Borderline Intellectual Functioning, Neglect of a Child, Sexual Abuse of a Child as Victim, and Emerging Personality Disorder Dynamics with Borderline Features. Her childhood had left a mark.

'Crystal is highly sensitive to anticipated rejection, abandonment, and harm in her relationships,' the psychologist wrote in his report. 'She has immense underlying rage at significant others for their perceived unwillingness and/or inability to respond to her needs for nurturance, security, and esteem... She has limited ability to tolerate much in the way of frustration or anxiety and a proneness to act out her tensions without much... foresight or deliberation... She is still seen as being fragilely integrated.'

The report surmised that Crystal had an IQ of about 70 and anticipated that she would need 'long-term mental health treatment and supportive assistance if she [was] to be maintained in the community as an adult.'"

The reason that I'm dwelling on this is because there are a whole lot of Crystals out there in America. This is what deep, generational poverty creates: babies born to stressed, traumatized, drug-addicted parents who get little to no prenatal care, can't provide stable homes or resilient emotional anchors for their children, and both model and inflict deeply dysfunctional, damaging behaviors from the cradle onward. Crystal's profile is not an anomaly. That history, and that psych eval, is incredibly common.

These children have no chance. By the time she hits 18, Crystal is so damaged that she would need wrap-around supportive care from a myriad of professional disciplines to function in society -- and given our lack of interest in preventing this situation, it's no surprise that we're even less interested in paying for the extent and duration of care that Crystal would need to ameliorate, let alone fix, her problems.

And it's worth noting that even as a girl (let alone a boy or young man with the same profile), Crystal has hit the system as a criminal defendant charged with violent offenses. I'll talk about this more when we get to Vanetta, but again, this is what deep poverty does and what it creates. If we actually cared about making not only a fairer and more humane society but a *safer* one, we'd hit grinding poverty and its stresses hard as a root cause of criminality.

Anyway, back to the book: For a few days, Arleen feels a great and glorious reprieve of not having to worry about rent. She gives Crystal $150, but since she doesn't expect to be there long, she feels free enough to buy her son a new pair of sneakers ("that felt great") and then start looking for a new apartment.

Just as she's getting started on her apartment hunt and is trying to check out new places, though, Arleen gets called back to deal with an eruption of furious drama: Crystal (who is enraged in part because she's lost her food stamps and is going hungry) has gotten into a fight with Arleen's kids and is threatening to throw them all out immediately. To keep the peace, Arleen takes Crystal's side in the dispute, then spends down her own stamps to restock the fridge with meat cuts and potato chips. This soothes Crystal enough to let them stay again, but leaves Arleen broke.

"Later on, after things were resolved, Arleen sat down next to Jori and tried to explain herself. 'What kind of parent am I to just listen to her and not listen to you?' she said, softly. 'But this is what comes when you lose your home. This is what comes.'"
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Postby Merciel » Fri Jun 01, 2018 8:12 pm

Evicted, Part Two, Chs. 13 & 14:

Chapter 13 returns to Larraine, camped out in her brother Beaker's disgusting trailer. Beaker comes home from the hospital and tries to get Larraine to chip in for the rent, but she refuses because she has to pay the storage bill on her confiscated belongings from when she got evicted. They compromise with Larraine paying the cable and phone bills, but even that plus what she owes Eagle Moving for the monthly storage bill doesn't leave her with much room to save for her next move.

We also get an overview of Lenny and Susie, who operate as "cultural brokers" mediating Tobin's interactions with his trailer park tenants (and who get fired as soon as Bieck Management takes over and installs a 23-year-old recent college grad to replace them as property managers). And we get a brief walk-along with Roger, the state property inspector, who turns a blind eye to some code violations because he figures it's in the tenants' best interest if he doesn't crack down too hard, but who still has a hard time passing the trailer park overall: "if you're going to let trailers that look this bad into your trailer park, you have to make it habitable."

There's also a description of how filthy an evicted tenant's run-down and hoarder-level trailer is, and how Tobin pays a 70-year-old woman $20 for the five hours she spent cleaning out that trailer so he could rent it out again. Another trailer park tenant, a "junk collector," helps in exchange for getting to haul off the larger pieces of metal junk to a scrapyard, which pays him $60. Tobin, the landlord, pays that guy nothing.

The trailer is otherwise not remediated, leaving it reeking of cat urine and cigarette smoke, filled with broken windows, and crusted with black mold and grime around the toilet. Tobin rents it out as a "handyman special" to a young couple, offering to let them skip the first two months' rent if they fix up the place. They accept, spend their own money to fix up the trailer, and begin paying Tobin rent on the third month.

The chapter closes by noting that Tobin "took home roughly $447,000 each year," which put him in "the top 1 percent of income earners. Most of his tenants belonged to the bottom 10 percent."

Chapter 14 follows Scott, the former nurse who lost his job and solidly middle-class lifestyle to opiate addiction, and who views everyone else's misfortunes through the prism of his own experience: "In Scott's mind, drugs explained a lot about the world [...] Scott figured Ned and Pam got what was coming to them. In his old life, before the fall, he might have been more sympathetic. But he had come to view sympathy as a kind of naivete, a sentiment voiced from a certain distance by the callow middle classes. 'They can be compassionate because it's not their only option,' he said of liberals who didn't live in trailer parks. [...]

Trailer park residents rarely raised a fuss about a neighbor's eviction, whether that person was a known drug addict or not. Evictions were deserved, understood to be the outcome of individual failure. They 'helped get rid of the riffraff,' some said. No one thought the poor more undeserving than the poor themselves."

Desmond touches on the history of tenants' associations and the solidarity that once enabled tenants to go on "rent strikes," press for legislative protections, and otherwise collectively resist "price gouging," unsanitary conditions, and other hardships inflicted by more powerful landlords. But, he notes:

"Petitions, picket lines, civil disobedience -- this kind of political mobilization required a certain shift in vision. 'For a protest movement to arise out of [the] traumas of daily life,' the sociologists Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward have observed, 'the social arrangements that are ordinarily perceived as just and immutable must come to seem both unjust and mutable.' This usually happened during extraordinary times, when large-scale social transformations or economic disturbances -- the postwar housing shortage, say -- profoundly upset the status quo.

But it was not enough simply to perceive injustice. Mass resistance was possible only when people believed they had the collective capacity to change things. For poor people, this required identifying with the oppressed, and counting yourself among them -- which was something most trailer park residents were absolutely unwilling to do. [...]

For most residents, Scott among them, the goal was to leave, not to plant roots and change things. Some residents described themselves as 'just passing through,' even if they had been passing through nearly all their life. One, an out-of-work father of three who powered his trailer with stolen electricity, said 'We don't let family come here. It's not us. It's lower-class living, and I didn't come from this.' Lenny's ex-wife, who being Lenny's ex-wife was virtually married to the trailer park at one time, liked to tell people 'You forget that I'm the one that used to go to the opera.' Tam, the pregnant drug addict, thought of the trailer park 'as a hotel.'"

American culture pushes people to think of poverty as shameful, as the result of individual incompetence or moral failure rather than larger structural forces. As a result, poor people often try to reclaim some dignity by denying that they're "really" poor, and/or distancing themselves from other poor people (virtually all of Desmond's interviewees, at one point or another, try to distinguish themselves from "other" poor people, generally either by racial or moral distinction). This sense of shame effectively undermines efforts at organizing collective action, and for that reason, I am cynically inclined to think, it's deliberately fanned and encouraged by those who find it advantageous to keep the poor disorganized and depressed.

However, as we've noted many times throughout the Amateur Facebook Sociology Project, there's just enough truth to give the propaganda some power. Scott's fall, in particular, illustrates this: he tumbled out of the middle class and into poverty and shame because he got addicted to opiates. And, possibly because he's so filled with self-loathing at having had a real chance at a good life (which most of Desmond's interviewees never got) and having squandered it on drugs, he's even more merciless about evaluating the desperate people he sees around him. If he was bad, they must be worse. If he feels shame, it's only because he should have been something "better," and now he's one of them.

And because for him the story actually *was* one of personal agency, it must have been the same for everyone else.
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Postby Merciel » Sun Jun 03, 2018 6:58 pm

Evicted, Part Two, Ch. 15:

Arleen's search for a new apartment continues with no success. One day, she visits 24 apartments but doesn't get a single lead. Meanwhile, Crystal has befriended Trisha, the upstairs tenant (previously described as "pretty," "illiterate," and "fragile"), but finds their friendship tested by Trisha's willingness to put up with her abusive boyfriend Chris:

"After Chris had gotten home from work and Trisha went back upstairs, Crystal had heard him yelling at her for smoking his cigarettes and drinking his beer. She had heard other noises too. [...]

There were blunt and muffled thuds, interspersed with loud pounds when Trisha slammed into the floor. Arleen covered her head with a pillow, but Crystal stewed. 'I ain't fixing to see no woman getting beat up by no man,' she said. She wanted to help Trisha, but she also couldn't help feeling repulsed by her weakness. She pitied Trisha and found her pathetic. [...]

Crystal called Sherrena, who didn't answer. Then she called 911 three separate times. The police finally showed up and took Chris away. When they left, Arleen looked at Crystal. 'You must want to lose your house,' she said."

The next day, Sherrena hears from police, notifying her of three or more incidents within 30 days of "nuisance activity at [her] property," because this isn't the first time Crystal has called 911 on Chris beating Trisha. It's also not the first time Sherrena's been ordered to abate a "nuisance." Previous incidents with other tenants at the same property a year ago included "a fight and a woman being sliced with a razor blade," for which Sherrena evicted those tenants. Once again, Sherrena is told to "abate the nuisance activities" on her property or face up to a $5000 fine and jail time.

Sherrena is "embarrassed": "'I'm steady trying to work with these low-quality people,' she said after hanging up." She decides to evict both Trisha and, if she doesn't eject Arleen, Crystal too (because Crystal has also called 911 after fighting with Arleen).

Desmond then moves into a discussion of the development of nuisance ordinances and how such ordinances pressure landlords to evict tenants for noise complaints, "trouble with subjects," and domestic violence:

"One landlord wrote to the Milwaukee PD: 'This is one girl in one apartment who is having trouble with her boyfriend. She was a good tenant for a long time -- until her boyfriend came around. Probably things are not going to change, so enclosed please find a copy of a notice terminating her tenancy served today.' Another wrote: 'I discussed the report with [my tenant]... her boyfriend had threatened her with bodily harm and was the reason for the [911] call. We agreed that he would not be allowed in the building and she would be responsible for any damage to the building property and evicted if he returned to the property.'

Another wrote: 'First, we are evicting Sheila M, the caller for help from police. She has been beaten by her 'man' who kicks in doors and goes to jail for 1 or 2 days. (Catch and release does not work.) We suggested she obtain a gun and kill him in self defense, but evidently she hasn't. Therefore, we are evicting her.'"

Desmond notes the racial disparity in enforcement of nuisance ordinances: only 1 in 41 properties in white neighborhoods that could have received a nuisance citation actually did so, whereas 1 in 16 properties received a citation in black neighborhoods. (I would have been interested to know how this tracked with economics -- i.e., to what extent is it reflective of racial bias vs. poverty? -- but Desmond doesn't note that. My suspicion is that the disparity has a significant link to poverty, maybe moreso than race per se, but it remains only a suspicion.)

He continues:

"The year the police called Sherrena, Wisconsin saw more than one victim per week murdered by a current or former romantic partner or relative. After the murders were released, Milwaukee's chief of police appeared on the local news and puzzled over the fact that many victims had never contacted the police for help. A nightly news reporter summed up the chief's views: 'He believes that if police were contacted more often, that victims would have the tools to prevent fatal situations from occurring in the future.'

What the chief failed to realize, or failed to reveal, was that his department's own rules presented battered women with a devil's bargain: keep quiet and face abuse or call the police and face eviction."

The chapter closes with another fight between Crystal and Arleen, which ends with each of them admitting to the other that they share a history of molestation, and Arleen facing up to an impending eviction while Crystal tries to soothe her with the banal benevolence she's picked up at her prosperity gospel semi-scam of a church. Arleen is not reassured.

Going back to the domestic violence discussion (and rewording my original thoughts a bit to organize them better): I think the key point here is the nuisance ordinances, not the evictions per se.

To the extent that nuisance ordinances pressure landlords to evict tenants that they would not otherwise have evicted in domestic violence situations, they are probably not great. (However, the flipside is that they give other tenants and neighbors some leverage in pressuring absentee landlords or disinterested slumlords into doing *something* to remedy untenable situations that spill over into affecting adjacent units, which can be a significant benefit for those people.)

But to the extent that anyone might be tempted to demonize landlords for evicting domestic violence victims period, I'm not sure that's entirely fair. These are pretty much no-win situations from the landlords' perspective, and I'm personally not inclined to fault them for electing to preserve other tenants' wellbeing and the intactness of their own property, if it comes to that.
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Postby rushedbehind » Sun Jun 03, 2018 8:26 pm

really enjoying this
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Postby Merciel » Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:22 am

Evicted, Part Two, Ch. 16:

Lamar, the legless Vietnam vet, finally persuades his upstairs neighbors, Devon and Kamala, to come by for a game of spades with him and the neighborhood boys. The couple has three young children (ages 3, 2, and 8 months), so they don't have the opportunity to get out much.

On this particular night, however, Kamala has gotten her father to babysit for a few hours, so the parents can go downstairs for a little while and play a few rounds of cards with the neighbors.

And then, suddenly, fire engulfs the property. No one hears any smoke detectors go off. (Sherrena vaguely recalls having installed some, but no one can recall whether they were functional. One doubts that the tenants had money to spare for replacement alarm batteries, for one thing.)

Devon rushes upstairs and grabs the two older girls, one under each arm, but the fire is too intense for anyone to reach the baby. The toddlers, able to walk on their own, could flee to where their parents could reach them, but the 8-month-old can't move. Kamala tries and fails to get to the baby, getting half her hair burned off in her desperation. Lamar's son Luke also tries to rescue the baby, and also fails.

Firefighters bring the little body out a few hours later, after the apartment has been reduced to a gutted, charcoaled shell and the fire has been contained. Lamar's downstairs unit is also destroyed as a result of the blaze.

"The following day, Sherrena heard from the fire inspector. He said the fire had started when one of Kamala's daughters climbed out of bed and knocked over a lamp. Kamala's father had either fled without grabbing the baby or, more likely, left the girls alone earlier in the evening. [...]

The fire inspector told Sherrena she 'didn't have anything to worry about.' She wasn't liable for anything that had happened. Sherrena then asked if she was obligated to return Kamala and Lamar's rent, since the fire happened a few days after the first of the month. The fire inspector said no, and that settled it in Sherrena's mind. 'They are not getting any money back from me,' she said. Sherrena figured both Kamala and Lamar would ask for their rent to be returned, and she was right.

Sherrena planned to tear the place down and pocket the insurance payout. 'The only positive thing I can say is happening out of all this is that I may get a huge chunk of money,' she said. That -- and 'getting rid of Lamar.' The Red Cross would find Lamar and his sons a new place to live, giving Sherrena one less eviction to worry about."

In a footnote, Desmond closes out the chapter by remarking on the long history of slum and tenement fires, "when ghetto housing in city after city ignited in flame" well into the 1970s. "Today," he writes, "children living in substandard housing are more than ten times more likely to die in a fire than those living in decent and safe homes."

This book was published well before the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London claimed at least 72 lives (with public inquiries still ongoing), but that incident merely underscored Desmond's point. Fire, which seems like it ought to be as outdated as tuberculosis and cholera as a scourge of 19th-century tenements, continues to be a real and life-threatening hazard for the poor today.
Last edited by Merciel on Tue Jun 05, 2018 4:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Merciel » Tue Jun 05, 2018 4:00 pm

Evicted, Part Three ("After"), Chs. 17 & 18:

I'm going to shortchange Chapter 17 a little bit because we'll get back to its key points later; most of this chapter is just setting up the background for those developments.

In Chapter 17, Sherrena has had it with the drama and decides to evict both Arleen and Crystal. Arleen intensifies her apartment hunt, while Crystal mostly just sits on the couch. The details of Arleen's desperate search are pretty heartbreaking, mostly because she is so at a loss about how to present herself in a sympathetic light and secure some kind of housing, any kind.

She lies about how many kids she has, lies about her income sources (claiming to receive child support to make it seem like her household is more financially stable than it is), is immediately willing to give up the kids' pet kitten to get a no-pets apartment, and tries her best to mimic middle-class cultural capital during an interview with a prospective landlord:

"'I understand what you're saying.' Arleen thought that white people liked it when she said 'I understand what you're saying,' and 'I'm trying to get my stuff together and stop making dumb choices,' and 'I'm going to start going back to school for my GED.' And eye contact, lots of eye contact.'"

With a verbal promise of a lease in hand (after she offers to let her landlord directly deduct rent from her W-2 check before she receives it), Arleen "goes homeless" and enters the shelter system so that the Red Cross's charity fund will cover her security deposit, which is the only way Arleen can afford it. She takes her belongings to a storage facility (which she can afford the first month's discounted rent on because she sold some of her food stamps and a space heater to scrape together $21).

They leave the kitten with Trisha, the upstairs tenant with the abusive boyfriend, and eventually find space in a domestic violence shelter after no other shelters are able to take them. Then Arleen gets a call from her prospective landlord: a more desirable tenant has rented the unit she had the handshake agreement on, and her family has no place to go.

This latest blow is too much. As Arleen is packing up the last of her things from Crystal's -- including a $5 gas adapter that she bought to use the oven -- Crystal screams at her about taking the adapter (which would render the oven useless), and it blows up into a full-on brawl with Arleen's kids (even her 5-year-old gets into the fray: "Trying to be helpful, he had found a broken shower rod and was hitting Crystal with it") until Quentin throws them all out.

After the brawl, Crystal returns to find that Jori wasn't able to remove the gas adapter, but he did cut the electrical cord in a fit of spite. And so the unlikely roommates' drama ends, with a last shot of residual damage to their landlord.

Chapter 18 sees Larraine trying to navigate the welfare office and food pantry, with limited success. She gets "two grocery bags filled with canned beef and kidney beans and other things she hated," then succeeds in getting her $80-a-month food stamp benefit reinstated on a second visit.

Following the second visit, she stops by a Rent-A-Center type furniture store and asks the salesman to show her armoires, pretending to window shop:

"Larraine was participating in a kind of cleansing ritual, swapping the welfare building's miasma of unwashed bodies and dirt with the smell of a new leather sofa. She was also entertaining a fantasy of making a good home for herself and her daughters. [...]

To Larraine, putting something on layaway was saving. 'I can't leave money in my bank,' she said. 'When you're on SSI you can only have so much money in the bank, and it's got to be less than a thousand dollars. Because if it's more... they cut your payments until that money's spent.' [...] Larraine saw this rule as a clear disincentive to save. 'If I can't keep my money in the bank, then I might as well buy something worthwhile.' [...]

Before her eviction, Beaker had asked Larraine why she didn't just sell her jewelry and pay Tobin. 'Of course I'm not going to do that,' she said. 'I worked way too hard for me to sell my jewelry... I'm not going to sell my life savings because I'm homeless or I got evicted.'

It wasn't like she had just stumbled into a pit and would soon climb out. Larraine imagined she would be poor and rent-strapped forever. And if that was to be her lot in life, she might as well have a little jewelry to show for it. [...]

Larraine didn't put anything on layaway that day. But when her food stamps kicked in, she went to the grocery store and bought two lobster tails, shrimp, king crab legs, salad, and lemon meringue pie. [...] She ate everything alone, in a single sitting, washing it down with Pepsi. The meal consumed her entire monthly allocation of food stamps. It was her and Glen's anniversary, and she wanted to do something special. 'I know our relationship may not have been good, but it was our relationship,' she said. [...]

When Larraine spent money or food stamps on non-essentials, it baffled and frustrated people around her, including her niece, Sammy. [...] Pastor Daryl felt the same way, saying that Larraine was careless with her money because she operated under a 'poverty mindset.'

To Sammy, Pastor Daryl, and others, Larraine was poor because she threw money away. But the reverse was more true. Larraine threw money away because she was poor.

Before she was evicted, Larraine had $164 left over after paying the rent. She could have put some of that away, shunning cable and Walmart. If Larraine somehow managed to save $50 a month, nearly one-third of her after-rent income, by the end of the year she would have $600 to show for it -- enough to cover a single month's rent. And that would have come at considerable sacrifice, since she would sometimes have had to forgo things like hot water and clothes.

Larraine could at least have saved what she spent on cable. But to an older woman who lived in a trailer park isolated from the rest of the city, who had no car, who didn't know how to use the internet, who only sometimes had a phone, who no longer worked, and who sometimes was seized with fibromyalgia attacks and cluster migraines -- cable was a valued friend.

People like Larraine lived with so many compounded limitations that it was difficult to imagine the amount of good behavior or self-control that would allow them to lift themselves out of poverty. The distance between grinding poverty and even stable poverty could be so vast that those at the bottom had little hope of climbing out even if they pinched every penny. So they chose not to. Instead, they tried to survive in color, to season the suffering with pleasure. They would get a little high or have a drink or do a bit of gambling or acquire a television. They might buy lobster on food stamps.

If Larraine spent her money unwisely, it was not because her benefits left her with so much but because they left her with so little. She paid the price for her lobster dinner. She had to eat pantry food the rest of the month. Some days, she simply went hungry. It was worth it."
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Postby Merciel » Wed Jun 06, 2018 1:47 pm

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 18 (cont'd) & 19:

In the second part of Chapter 18, Larraine learns that Beaker hasn't been paying the gas bill and is nearly $3K in debt to the gas company, forcing a shutoff. He also owes almost a thousand in back rent. With one day's notice, Beaker moves to a federally subsidized assisted living facility for the elderly and disabled, leaving Larraine in the lurch.

Larraine makes brief, halting efforts to find new housing, but she has no idea where to begin. She had never previously applied for public housing, assuming that if her elderly and disabled neighbors couldn't get in, then neither could she -- and she isn't wrong about that. (Her application takes a while to be processed, and ultimately she's denied because of her eviction history and unpaid taxes.)

Finally, with nowhere to go, no heat, no phone, and winter closing in on the trailer park, Larraine approaches a neighbor she barely knows and asks if she can stay in the old lady's trailer. It's a hoarder's place, but the clutter isn't outright filthy and the neighbor is nice, and so Larraine settles in for the winter.

The first part of Chapter 19 (we'll do the second half later) closes out the story of Pam and Ned, the crackhead white couple evicted from Larraine's trailer park earlier. (Desmond doesn't follow them as long or as closely as some of his other interviewees, and reading between the lines, it seems like Ned's hostility has a lot to do with why he doesn't get as close to them.)

Ned loses his part-time construction job as a result of the eviction: "Job loss could lead to eviction, but the reverse was also true. An eviction not only consumed renters' time, causing them to miss work, it also weighed heavily on their minds, often triggering mistakes on the job. It overwhelmed workers with stress, causing them to act unprofessionally, and commonly resulted in their relocating farther away from the worksite, increasing their likelihood of being late or missing days. [...]

Even so, Ned refused to call his family. Typical, Pam thought. Ned called home to brag but rarely to ask. So Pam worked her phone, calling almost everyone she knew and even churches. Nothing."

Nevertheless, their informal social networks pull through: an old partying buddy gives them a couch to crash on for a month, and another acquaintance gives Ned an under-the-table job working on motorcycles. After a month, though, the buddy starts hinting they should move on, and they renew the housing search with Pam just a few days from delivering their fifth kid.

"When talking to landlords, Pam had begun subtracting children from her family. She was beginning to wonder what was most responsible for keeping them homeless: her drug conviction from several years back, the fact that Ned was on the run and had no proof of income, their eviction record, their poverty, or their children.

Children caused landlords headache. Fearing street violence, many parents in crime-ridden neighborhoods kept their children locked inside. Children cooped up in small apartments used the curtains for superhero capes; flushed toys down the toilet; and drove up the water bill. They could test positive for lead poisoning, which could bring a pricey abatement order. They could come under the supervision of Child Protective Services, whose caseworkers inspected families' apartments for unsanitary or dangerous conditions. Teenagers could attract the attention of the police."

Ned and Pam broaden their search to Milwaukee's Hispanic neighborhoods, but refuse to consider black areas. Ned tells a racist joke, "and Pam forced a smile. She sometimes bristled at Ned, especially when he said things like this in front of [Pam's half-black daughters] Bliss and Sandra or told them that their curly black hair looked ugly. But it wasn't like Pam felt differently, at least as far as neighborhoods were concerned. [...] 'At least at the trailer park everybody there was pretty much white. They were trashy white, but still.'"

They apply for a spacious, well-lit, clean and nicely maintained 4BR apartment in the neighborhood. Four days after Pam delivers her fifth daughter, they get approved:

"Pam had two evictions on her record, was a convicted felon, and received welfare. Ned had an outstanding warrant, no verifiable income, and a long record that included three evictions, felony drug convictions, and several misdemeanors like reckless driving and carrying a concealed weapon. They had five daughters. But they were white."

Three days later, they get evicted because Ned squanders their opportunity by getting into a drunken altercation with an upstairs neighbor. But within a week they have a new place: "a clean two-bedroom apartment in a working-class white area" with a pear tree out front.

"Soon after moving in, a neighbor hooked Ned up with a construction job and Pam began working as a medical assistant. Ned told Bliss and Sandra to tell the landlord they didn't live there, if she ever asked. He told them a lot of things, like: 'You're as stupid as your father' and 'You're a half-nigger snitch.' One day he got a kick out of getting all the girls to march around the house chanting, 'White power!'

It emptied Pam out. She prayed it wouldn't hurt the girls in the long run. She prayed for forgiveness, for being a failure of a mother. But she felt that circumstances bound her to Ned.

'This is a bad life,' she told herself. 'We aren't doing crack, but we are still dealing with the same fucking shit... I've never been in a position to leave.' The best she could do was to tell her girls, when they were alone, that Ned was the devil. Some nights, before she fell asleep, Pam wondered if she should take her girls to a homeless shelter or under the viaduct. 'As long as we're together and we're happy and positive things are said. And I just want to tell them that they're beautiful, 'cause my girls are the strongest little women in the world.'"

That closes out Ned and Pam's thread of the narrative.

The main thing that strikes me about their trajectory is that it tracks a lot of what we saw in _Ain't No Makin' It_, specifically the value of social networks among working-class whites and how the lack of similar connections holds back minorities, especially blacks. Ned and Pam can get clean, safe housing and jobs with relative ease, compared to most of Desmond's interviewees, and it's exclusively because they are white.

The tangible benefits of racism and misogyny are also demonstrated in their story. It's not just the psychological boost that Ned derives from his white supremacist beliefs and misogyny (which allow him to think that he's superior to others and deserving of deference no matter how degraded his behavior and circumstances); there's an actual social currency in how he can use those comments and jokes to ingratiate himself with other white men in his demographic who share the same beliefs and form instant kinships with him upon his flashing a figurative club card to let them know that he's in the same tribe.

Pam bears some of those costs, and her daughters Sandra and Bliss bear more, but Pam is willing to accept that tradeoff in exchange for not having to live in a black neighborhood and getting the scraps of white privilege that Ned tosses her way. It's better than any alternative she can see.

And she's not wrong. It isn't remotely fair or just, but she's not wrong. Her family gets one of the better outcomes in the book.
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Postby Merciel » Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:55 pm

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 19 (cont'd):

The second part of Chapter 19 follows Arleen's apartment hunt in parallel to Ned and Pam's, which I suspect was meant to contrast the experience of low-income renters with kids if they're a white couple (stressful, and Ned has more luck than Pam does because "people like single dads," but there are some safe, clean, affordable options) vs. a black single mom (lol yr screwed).

Arleen calls on upward of 90 apartments without getting a single viable lead. "Once, she ended a long and fruitless day of apartment hunting with the awful realization that she had left a backpack with Jafaris's breathing equipment at a bus stop. After a day without treatment, Jafaris seemed fine. But two days later, he woke up and told Arleen, 'Mommy, I don't feel good.' She heard him wheezing and called an ambulance. That time, they had transferred him to Children's Hospital, near the zoo, and kept him overnight. This time, they were able to make it back to the shelter by ten thirty p.m. And the on-call social worker was nice enough to pay for a cab to and from the hospital.

"When [prospective landlord] Number 85 answered the phone, Arleen replied, 'Hi! *How* you doing?' instead of 'Hi, how *you* doing?' or 'Hi, I'm calling about your property.' She had been trying different pitches and bending her voice in different directions. She would tell one landlord one thing and another something else. Sometimes she was in a shelter; sometimes she wasn't. Sometimes she had two children; sometimes one. Sometimes they were in child care; sometimes they weren't. Sometimes she received child support; sometimes she didn't. She was grasping, experimenting, trying out altered stories at random. Arleen wouldn't know how to game the system if she wanted to."

She tours an old mental hospital converted to low-end apartments with a property manager, Ali, a black guy in traditional Muslim dress, who tells Arleen, unprompted, about everything from the translation of his name, to a soliloquy about "some people, they can't get with that Huxtable culture. They more South Central in they culture. And I don't like that culture," and another one re: "I be on black women. You know, not having no committed relationships, and be Ms. Independent... Let's *bring back* family. If you ain't trying to be about family, then I don't care about sister here, in helping you any sort of way."

Arleen eventually figures out the guy is a little "funny" in the head, but it seems like her best lead for a minute, until he fails to call her back. (There are a couple of instances when prospective landlords come off as more welcoming than they probably would have without Desmond being present, and then once they're dealing with the prospective tenants separately and Desmond's not around, they get cold and abrupt again. I suspect Ali might have been one of those.)

After more disappointments, they stop by their old place, where Arleen had left a pair of shoes. Jori and Jafaris see their kitten, Little, and pick him up and kiss him. Arleen yells "Put it down, dang!" and jerks her son's arm so that the cat falls to the ground.

Desmond writes:

"When Arleen was alone, she sometimes cried for Little. But she was teaching her sons to love small, to reject what they could not have. Arleen was protecting them, and herself. What other self-defense was there for a single mother who could not consistently provide for her children? If a poor father failed his family, he could leave the way Larry [one of Arleen's partners] did, try again at some point down the road. Poor mothers -- most of them, anyway -- had to embrace this failure, to live with it.

Arleen's children did not always have a home. They did not always have food. Arleen was not always able to offer them stability; stability cost too much. She was not always able to protect them from dangerous streets; those streets were her streets. Arleen sacrificed for her boys, fed them as best she could, clothed them with what she had. But when they wanted more than she could give, she had ways, some subtle, others not, of telling them they didn't deserve it. [...]

You could only say 'I'm sorry, I can't' so many times before you began to feel worthless, edging closer to a breaking point. So you protected yourself, in a reflexive way, by finding ways to say 'No, I won't.' I cannot help you. So, I will find you unworthy of help."

Arleen's time begins to run short at the homeless shelter. With 29 days left on her clock, she has no idea where to go.


FOOTNOTE:

One of the things I really like about Desmond's approach to his material is how carefully he selects and positions details like mosaic tiles to create a compelling picture. One of the things I think he could have done better, though, is connect those dots for readers who might not be as inclined to draw their own lines of connection.

(This is a gripe I have with a lot of reviewers who seem to think, based on their own biases, that the book either does too much or not enough to demonize landlords, portray tenants as blameless, etc. In actuality the book is remarkably evenhanded and everything is there in fair measure if you look, but you do have to look.)

Anyway, on my first read I thought the amount of time spent describing Ali was peculiar (most of the prospective landlords don't get that much attention, unless there's something worth noting about that specific interaction, like Arleen's inability to ingratiate herself with a white landlord (and her instinct to take a supplicant/self-blaming posture when she tries) vs. Ned's easy ability to approach a white male landlord in a "man to man" way that gets them the apartment), and I wondered whether maybe it was just that Desmond thought it was kind of funny that this peculiar character pops up in a former mental hospital.

But on reread I don't think it's that (or not just that). It's this black guy, possibly from a background not all that dissimilar to Arleen's sons', who's buying into the "South Central culture" and "Ms. Independent" explanations for the failure of black single moms, when -- as Desmond points out -- it's really poverty. Just poverty, and the mom's inability to walk away from her kids as easily as the dad can (and often does), and the psychological costs that incurs.

Even the people who should know better, who should have firsthand experience of the dynamics (as a landlord renting to this population and thus entangled in their lives, if not as someone who's lived through it personally), so often fail to see what's right before their eyes.
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Postby Merciel » Sat Jun 09, 2018 1:11 am

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 20:

Crystal, evicted, moves to the homeless shelter widely known as the Lodge and finds herself matched up with a roommate named Vanetta, a single mom with three kids who pled guilty to a robbery recently (more on this later) and is awaiting sentencing. After a week as roommates in the shelter, they decide to pool their resources and look for an apartment together, although Vanetta harbors some doubts about Crystal's ability to hold onto her money after watching her toss it away on fast food, gambling, and hefty tithes to her church.

Crystal explains away her donations as "sowing seeds," telling Vanetta: "If you a farmer and you plant your seeds for your corn and your vegetables and all that, and you water and take care of it, your crops gonna come. That's how I look at it when I sow seeds in the church. I need something from God. So I sow a seed... I need a house. I need financial breakthrough. I need healing from stuff. I need to be made *whole.*"

Vanetta is unsympathetic to this explanation: "Every seed Crystal sowed in the offering basket left Vanetta with less money for their budding household." She sees Crystal's church as something that takes resources they can ill afford and gives nothing back.

Desmond has a slightly different take on what Crystal's church really means to her: "Crystal didn't want members of her church to reduce her, to see her as an object of pity, a member of 'the poor and the orphaned.' She wanted to be seen as Sister Crystal, part of the Body, the Beloved [...] [H]er church was in no way equipped to meet Crystal's high-piled needs. What her church could offer was *the peace.*"

Crystal and Vanetta don't have much luck looking for apartments. One landlord agrees to show them places, but midway through the tour, "suddenly" pretends to answer his cell phone: "It was obvious to Vanetta and Crystal that no one had called, but he pretended to have a conversation. Hanging up, the landlord said that it had been his partner on the other line and he had just rented out [the] unit." He drives away, leaving them again without a lead.

Vanetta and Crystal are convinced that the landlord's behavior was based on their race. (This isn't evident from Desmond's retelling, which is devoid of any cues that the landlord rejected them because they were black, but since they were actually present when it happened, I assume they were accurate in their assessment and it was one of those "off" interactions where everyone knows what happened but it's not easy to pin down exactly *how* you know.)

From here, Desmond moves into a discussion of the history of racial segregation in American cities and the legacy of redlining:

"Most Milwaukeans believed their city was racially segregated because people preferred it that way. But the ghetto had always been more a product of social design than desire. [...] The ghetto had always been a [...] prime moneymaker for those who saw ripe opportunity in land scarcity, housing dilapidation, and racial segregation. [...] Over three centuries of systematic dispossession from the land created a semipermanent black rental class and an artificially high demand for inner-city apartments. [...]

The 1968 Civil Rights Act made housing discrimination illegal, but subtler forms prevailed. Crystal and Vanetta wanted to leave the ghetto, but landlords like the one on Fifteenth Street turned them away. Other landlords and property management companies -- like Affordable Rentals -- tried to avoid discriminating by setting clear criteria and holding all applicants to the same standards.

But equal treatment in an unequal society could still foster inequality. Because black men were disproportionately incarcerated and black women disproportionately evicted, uniformly denying housing to applicants with recent criminal or eviction records still had an incommensurate impact on African Americans. [...]

Eviction itself often explained why some families lived on safe streets and others on dangerous ones, why some children attended good schools and others failing ones. The trauma of being forced from your home, the blemish of an eviction record, and the taxing rush to locate a new place to live pushed evicted renters into more depressed and dangerous areas of the city."

The chapter closes with an anecdote about Crystal and Vanetta eating together at McDonald's when "a boy walked in. He was maybe nine or ten in dirty clothes and with unkempt hair. One side of his face was swollen. The boy didn't approach the counter. Instead, he wandered slowly through the tables, looking for scraps.

Crystal and Vanetta noticed him. 'What you got?' Crystal asked, riffling through her pockets. The women pooled what they had to buy the boy dinner. Staring up at the menu, Crystal wrapped her arm around the boy like she was his big sister. She made sure he was okay, handed him the food, and sent him away with a hug."
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Postby Merciel » Tue Jun 19, 2018 8:51 pm

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 21:

This is a short chapter revisiting the Hinkstons as Sherrena tears down the burned-out husk of Lamar and Kamala's apartment, which had been directly across a small, sad mud yard from the Hinkstons' place.

Since the last time we stopped by, the Hinkstons' apartment has gotten even worse:

"The toilet was stopped up again. So was the kitchen sink, brimming with gray water lined with a rust-orange film. Periodically, someone would bucket it out. This made washing difficult, and dirty pots and plates began accumulating on the counter. So did more roaches and other bugs.

Doreen [the Hinkston matriarch] didn't call Sherrena about the plumbing. She didn't want a lecture and figured she wouldn't help anyway, since they were still behind [on the rent]. She didn't call a plumber either. Even if she could come up with the money, that would feel too much like helping Sherrena, and nobody was interested in doing that, especially after the courthouse letter Patrice [one of Doreen's daughters] had received a few days back. It said she owed $2,494.50 [...]

The Hinkstons expected more of their landlord for the money they were paying her. Rent was their biggest expense by far, and they wanted a decent and functional home in return. They wanted things to be fixed when they broke. But if Sherrena wasn't going to repair her own property, neither were they. The house failed the tenants, and the tenants failed the house.

The worse the Hinkstons' house got, the more everyone seemed to become withdrawn and lethargic, which only deepened the problem. Natasha [another of Doreen's daughters, about to deliver her first child] started spending more time at Malik's. Doreen stopped cooking, and the children ate cereal for dinner. Patrice slept more. The children's grades dropped, and Mikey's teacher called saying he might have to repeat, mainly because of so many missed homework assignments.

Everyone had stopped cleaning up, and trash spread over the kitchen floor. Substandard housing was a blow to your psychological health: not only because things like dampness, mold, and overcrowding could bring about depression but because of what living in awful conditions told you about yourself.

It was once said that the poor are 'constantly exposed to evidence of their own irrelevance.' Especially for poor African American families -- who live in neighborhoods with rates of violence and concentrated poverty so extreme that even the worst white neighborhoods bear little resemblance -- living in degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods sent a clear message about where the wider society thought they belonged.

'Honestly, this place is a shack,' Doreen once said. Not long after that, Ruby came through the door and announced that 'a man just got killed right in front of the store.' Growing up in a shack in the ghetto meant learning how to endure such an environment while also learning that some people never had to. People who were repulsed by their home, who felt they had no control over it, and yet had to give most of their income to it -- they thought less of themselves. [...]

Patrice could feel the house sucking their energy. 'We just hit a mud hole with this house,' she said. 'No one's trying to get better. Makes me not want to get better. If you're around people every day that doesn't want to do anything, eventually you will feel like doing nothing.'"



FOOTNOTE: The Hinkstons are an interesting family to use for this particular argument, because they were slobs even before they moved into Sherrena's property (albeit not nearly to this degree). This isn't a case where a substandard property suddenly drove an entire family into depression and resulting squalor.

The Hinkstons were indifferent to a certain level of dirt and disarray well before they moved to that house, and their slovenly habits helped create that miserable environment (for example, the house's plumbing is old and crappy and easily jammed, but the Hinkstons are also in the habit of dumping cooking grease and other clogging substances down their drain, which didn't exactly improve matters). So they are not, by any measure, blameless tenants here.

But they're still probably the best illustration for that point because there are so many of them and the domino effects of depression thus become much clearer. Larraine gets depressed too when she has to move into Beaker's disgusting trailer, but she's just one person and she had been prone to depression before that, so the effects aren't as clear as when we see the Hinkston parents withdrawing from their kids, then the kids' diets going to garbage, their school performance suffering, and their futures being blighted.

This is the knock-on effect of poverty. It isn't *just* the squalor that's so demoralizing. It's that they can't escape it, they can't fix it, and yet it's sucking up a huge amount of their money. It's feeling the full weight of how little you're worth, how little your efforts matter, and yet how much the world extracts from you to let you have even that miserable house.
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Postby Merciel » Fri Jun 22, 2018 1:02 am

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 22:

Most of this chapter follows Vanetta, Crystal's one-time roommate from the homeless shelter, who's awaiting sentencing on a robbery conviction. Vanetta's backstory is covered in Chapter 19, so I'm going to skip back to that section to cover it:

"The trouble had started when Old Country Buffet slashed Vanetta's hours. Instead of working five days a week, she would now only work one. Her manager blamed the recession.

After that, Vanetta couldn't pay her electricity bill. We Energies threatened disconnection unless she paid $705. There was no way she could pay that and the rent. But she worried that Child Protective Services would take her kids away if her light and gas were shut off. The thought of losing her children made Vanetta sick to her stomach. Then she fell behind in rent and received an eviction notice. She felt helpless and terrified. Her friend, who had also received the pink papers, felt the same way.

One day with Vanetta's boyfriend, the two women sat in a van and watched another pair of women walk into a Blockbuster carrying purses. Someone suggested robbing the women and splitting the money; then all of a sudden, that's what they were doing. Vanetta's boyfriend unloaded his gun and handed it to her friend. The friend ran from the van and pointed the pistol at the women. Vanetta followed, collecting their purses. The cops picked them up a few hours later.

In her confession, Vanetta had said, 'I was desperate to pay my bills, and I was nervous and scared and did not want to see my kids in the dark or out on the street.' [...] After her [plea] hearing, she was fired and then evicted, which was when she took her kids to the Lodge."

Chapter 22 follows Vanetta as she dresses her kids, tries to prepare the oldest of them (her 4-year-old son) for what might happen, and then puts on her best clothes as she goes to court. The prosecutor speaks, then the defense attorney, then Vanetta and her friends and family, then the judge. Nobody is especially hard on Vanetta; everyone understands the situation with clear eyes, and everyone is sorry that she has to be there. But it was a gunpoint robbery, and that's not a probation case.

Desmond writes:

"What the judge was saying, in essence, was: We all agree that you were poor and scared when you did this violent, hurtful thing, and if you had been allowed to go on working five days a week at Old Country Buffet, refilling soup pots and mopping up frozen yogurt spills, none of us would be here right now.

You might have been able to save enough to move to an apartment that was de-leaded and clean in a neighborhood without drug dealers and with safe schools. With time, you may have been able to get Bo-Bo the medical treatment he needs for his seizures, and maybe you could have even started taking night classes to become a nurse, like you always wanted. And, who knows, maybe you could have actually *become* a nurse, a real nurse with a uniform and everything.

Then you could really give your kids a childhood that would look nothing like the one that Shortcake gave you. If you did that, you could walk around this cold city with your head held high, and maybe you would eventually come to feel that you were worth something and deserving of a man who could support you other than by lending you his pistol for a stickup or at least one who didn't break down your door and beat you in front of your children. Maybe you would meet someone with a steady job and get married in a small church with Kendal standing proudly up front by the groom and Tembi as the poofy-dressed flower girl and Bo-Bo as the grinning, toddling ring bearer, just like you always dreamed it, and from that day on your groom would introduce you as 'my *wife.*'

But that's not what happened. What happened was that your hours were cut, and your electricity was about to be shut off, and you and your children were about to be thrown out of your home, and you snatched someone's purse as your friend pointed a gun at her face.

And if it was poverty that caused this crime, who's to say you won't do it again? Because you were poor then and you are poor now. We all see the underlying cause, we see it every day in this court, but the justice system is no charity, no jobs program, no Housing Authority. If we cannot pull the weed up from the roots, then at least we can cut it low at the stem."
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Postby Merciel » Fri Jun 22, 2018 1:03 am

FOOTNOTE: This section, and the section following Crystal in this same chapter (which I'll cover next time), really stood out to me because Vanetta and Crystal exemplify SO MUCH of what I saw, and still see, in the system.

There are some defendants who, in my opinion, are straight-up evil. Kermit Gosnell is, in my opinion, straight-up evil. When you have the luxury of being in a position where you can and should do better, and you choose to exploit and harm other people not because you have to but because you *want* to, out of greed or pride or just sheer meanness, then in my book you're evil.

But that's not most defendants, and certainly not most defendants who commit crimes other than homicide and sex offenses. Most defendants are there, one way or another, because poverty crimped who they became and what they could do with their lives.

So when I get into these deep dives on sociology, it is in large part out of professional interest: I'd like to know what we can do, collectively, to make these things not happen. I would like to understand root causes, disentangle them from the choices that people actually do make more or less freely, and then try to remedy the structural constraints that push people who *could have been* law-abiding citizens into crime.

Because quite often it's not really a moral concern. Quite often it's people acting out of desperation or circumstance or because they never had a chance to become anything better. And that's a tragedy.


FOOTNOTE 2: The *other* footnote I wanted to drop on this part of Ch. 22 is that no, actually, what happens with criminal defendants who are taken into custody and thereby separated from their kids is nothing at all like the family separations happening at the border right now.

Vanetta gets weeks (possibly even months; the text isn't entirely clear) of notice that her sentencing hearing is coming up, and that she may be sent to prison (as in fact she is, for 18 months, which is a very lenient sentence for a gunpoint robbery and reflects the totality of her history and circumstances, incl. that she's the sole parent taking care of these children). She has time to explain to her kids, as best she can, what might happen and what they need to do if she's gone. She can make arrangements for them to stay with her sister, and both her sister and her mother accompany her to the hearing, so the kids have familiar people to help them.

And, although it hardly needs to be said, Vanetta *knows* where her kids are. She knows where they're going, she knows who has custody of them. She can call them, they can come for visits, they can stay in contact.

It's not great, but it's a completely different scenario from the forced, abrupt, horrifying things happening at our border. And that's what we do with somebody convicted beyond a reasonable doubt of a violent felony, which is a long damn sight from a fleeing refugee who's done nothing wrong except try to find some safety for their kids.
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Postby Merciel » Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:06 am

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 22 (cont'd):

The other half of Chapter 22 follows Crystal's downward spiral. She gets thrown out of her church after fighting repeatedly with other congregants, bishops, and the minister, and takes up with a new church where the congregants flail and speak in tongues. She goes street homeless for a while, sleeping in the waiting room of a city hospital or in the Amtrak station, where she tries to blend in with waiting passengers.

At a bus stop, she meets an older woman named Patricia, who invites her to become a roommate because she needs an income to replace what she lost after tossing out her abusive husband. Within a few days, Crystal is calling Patricia "Mom," but a few days later, after Patricia's 14-year-old daughter takes Crystal's cell phone to school and loses it, their friendship blows up into a fight that ends with Crystal repeatedly stomping Patricia's face into the ground and one of Crystal's sisters beating Patricia with a hammer.

This pattern repeats. Crystal invites a friend over to the apartment where she's (very briefly) staying; the friend uses up Crystal's cell phone minutes; Crystal puts her friend through the window (and gets evicted).

Street homeless again, Crystal takes up prostitution, turning tricks to get by. She soon learns that the best time to walk the streets is early in the morning, catching men on their way to work.

She turns 18, and her SSI benefit evaporates because the examiner who evaluates her adult disability application doesn't think she qualifies. (Crystal is the one and only person profiled in this book who would rather draw disability benefits than work, and she's candid about her belief that an SSI check is more stable and reliable than any paycheck she could earn. In this sense, she comes close to the old boogeyman caricature of the welfare recipient who just chooses not to work. But it's probably also worth noting that with her myriad mental illnesses and predisposition to violence, 70-ish IQ, iffy physical health, and total lack of job skills, Crystal isn't exactly the kind of candidate most employers would be jumping over themselves to hire.)

Crystal's story ends there: penniless and street homeless, with no income but food stamps, caught in "a weary, looping rhythm -- make a friend, use a friend, lose a friend -- [that allowed her to find], for short bursts, dry and warm places to sleep. When those bridges burned, she dropped back into street homelessness [...] Sometimes she would walk the streets all night and sleep on the bus once morning broke. But through it all, she almost never missed church."


FOOTNOTE: My main takeaway from Crystal's story is that she is a person who's basically impossible to fix. Her combination of handicaps makes her extremely difficult to sustain in society; she might be able to live in a group home, but then again she might prove too much of a conflict magnet to live with the other residents.

Ideally, we'd be able to address the structural forces that create kids who grow up to be Crystals. This basically comes down to mitigating generational poverty, which would go a long way toward reducing the number of kids born with and into all these co-morbidities but wouldn't entirely solve the problem (because there will always be some babies born with different qualities at birth, even with the best prenatal care and proactive health measures, and there will always be some adults who are woefully unfit caregivers).

Then we would, ideally, be able to better support adults with significant and layered issues. Right now, we pretty much don't do this at all. Crystal is headed for jail, one way or another, whether it ends up being for repeat prostitution or (much more likely) assault after she near-inevitably hurts someone else. She will join a large population of mentally ill adults who have no other supportive care, and I don't foresee her cycling out of the system until her body just plain breaks down enough that she can't hurt anybody.

Crystal's story is really common. To me, the most unusual part is just that she's a woman, but then again, I guess if she were male she would probably have gotten locked up a lot earlier and for a lot longer, and she wouldn't have been out long enough to get evicted and wind up in Desmond's project.

It's super depressing, in large part because I don't see any happy ending possible for someone like her. This is not someone who is going to magically become a law-abiding, hard-working, taxpaying citizen just because some Heritage Foundation ghoul hasn't stacked the deck against her enough to "motivate" her to do better.

She can't. She does not have the capacity. And right now, what we do with a person like that is leave them out on the street to suffer until they hurt somebody else, and then we lock them up.
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Postby Merciel » Sat Jun 23, 2018 9:35 pm

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 23:

This chapter follows Scott, the former nurse, as he struggles to kick his heroin habit and get sober.

It's a detailed and eye-opening read if you're not already familiar with the long, hard, back-and-forth process that getting sober is for most addicts. Scott starts off trying to work AA and get sober on his own, without medication, but after a few months of that version of sobriety, he starts to sour on it: the program is geared for alcoholics, without anyone else who understands the physical component of heroin addiction, and even after he's been sober for a while, he remains broke and semi-homeless (staying with ex-addict friends who have reached out to help him to sobriety) and depressed at the reduced circumstances of his life.

He tries to get Suboxone, fails, and relapses after feeling discouraged. His friends find a heroin needle in his belongings (it actually isn't Scott's, and belongs to their adult son who's been shooting up with Scott, but Scott takes the blame anyhow, and has in fact been using again) and kick him out of their home. Scott goes back to staying with Heroin Susie and Billy, his drug dealers from when he lived in the trailer park.

After going on another bender, Scott works up the courage to call his mom for help getting into a methadone program. Scott had never disclosed his heroin problems to his mom, who had no idea about his addiction, and the shame kept him from admitting that secret for years.

(Desmond doesn't directly theorize about it, but it seems like shame and secrecy are a recurring theme in Scott's life and may well have been part of what made him susceptible to heroin addiction. Scott doesn't seem to have been entirely comfortable with his gayness, which pushed him out of his small town and away from his family [and which he speaks about in somewhat diffident terms]; he doesn't seem to have any steady romantic partners or close non-addict friends; he has a history of being sexually abused as a young child but never sought treatment or talked about it. In short, there's a running theme of secrecy and a notable absence of solid, anchoring social relationships in Scott's life, and I wonder if that was a contributing factor in the turn that his life took.)

Scott's mother is astonished to learn of his addiction but comes through with the money to get him on methadone. Once in the program, Scott works it with considerable determination, working his way up to becoming a residential manager at the treatment facility. After a year of working for the program, Scott gets placed in a permanent housing program, which offers him a subsidized downtown apartment with nice amenities (a fitness center, a small movie theater, an indoor basketball court) and in a fashionable neighborhood. The apartment is itself nice, clean, and spacious, with full furnishings and appliances.

Scott develops a five-year plan to regain his nursing license, and after two and a half years, he's well on track to turning his life around. Desmond writes:

"In the trailer park, Scott had felt stuck. 'I just didn't know how to fix anything,' he remembered. 'It felt like the end of the earth down there, like none of the rest of the city existed.' During that time, Scott often thought about killing himself. He'd have done it with a monster hit of heroin; but he could never find enough money.

Scott's new place was such a stark contrast to his trailer and everything it represented that he began to think back on his time in the park as 'one big camping trip,' removed from civilization.

Sometimes, when he remembered those days and all he had lost, he would leave his apartment and wind his way through the Majestic's narrow, dimly lit hallways and come to a door. He'd open it and emerge in the middle of the Grand Avenue mall, as if stepping through a secret passageway. Walking the mall's floors, Scott would take in the lights, music, food smells, and people, and remember how he used to feel, years ago, when the city was still full of wonder and promise."



FOOTNOTE: Scott has by far the best outcome in the book. When Desmond leaves him, he's been clean and sober for over three years and is steadily working toward regaining a middle-class life, making solid progress every day. It seems all but certain that he'll succeed.

This is, I suspect, in large part because Scott only has one problem -- heroin addiction -- and it's relatively easy to solve. Not *easy,* but easier than anyone else in the book has it. Scott has job skills, he has a work ethic, he's white and has middle-class cultural capital. He's single (no kids to worry about), fairly young (so unlikely to face age discrimination in hiring), and doesn't have crippling mental illnesses.

So this really is a case where what he needs is help solving his one concrete problem, and then he can get back on his feet and rejoin the middle class. And even that requires some understanding of, and patience for, the relapses and backsliding that it'll take him to get there.
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Postby Merciel » Sun Jun 24, 2018 1:53 pm

Evicted, Part Three, Ch. 24:

The final chapter of the main narrative closes with Arleen. (I hadn't realized that Larraine's thread ended with the last time we saw her, but evidently it does. So she closes the book in limbo, staying temporarily with a neighbor she barely knows, unlikely either to regain her belongings or get any more stable after the winter, given what we know about Larraine's undisciplined spending habits and difficulty searching for housing in a low-density fringe of the city without a car or the internet.)

Arleen gets a break when the 90th landlord she calls sets her up with a beautiful, clean apartment in a formerly industrial neighborhood. It's by far the nicest place she's had in a long time, and she's momentarily overjoyed.

A few days later, she learns that "T," a longtime family friend considered almost like a cousin, has been murdered by his own cousin after an argument between them escalates into a fatal shooting. Arleen and her kids attend the funeral, and her older son, Jori, takes it particularly hard. Two weeks after the funeral, Jori has an emotional outburst in school, kicks a teacher, and runs away. The teacher calls the cops, who follow Jori to the new apartment when he flees there.

The landlord hears about it and, not wanting his property to become known as a nuisance, evicts Arleen. (He's actually pretty nice about it, returning her month's rent and security deposit, and even helping her move, but it's still a crushing blow.)

Arleen goes back to the old place she rented from Sherrena and stays with her former upstairs neighbor, Trisha, for a while, since Trisha owes her a favor. Her sons find out that their kitten, Little, is dead; Trisha let him out of the house and "[a] car had ground him into the pavement."

Desmond writes: "Trisha didn't hide the fact that she had begun turning tricks. She couldn't even if she wanted to. Men would just show up, and Trisha would take them into her bedroom, telling Arleen, 'Look, I'm about to get us some cigs.' Trisha would emerge later with eight or ten dollars. [...]

Trisha kept at it even after her new boyfriend moved in. Arleen sensed that he encouraged her to. [...] The man went by a string of nicknames; Trisha called him Sunny. He was a thirty-year-old man who had just served five years for selling drugs. Skinny, with a smooth walk, he bragged about having nine children by five different women and joked about taking a spatula to Trisha. When Trisha got money from johns or her payee, Sunny would take it. If Trisha called after Sunny on the street, he would ignore her and later hiss 'Don't call me 'babe' in public.'"

Sunny moves his parents and one of his sisters into Trisha's apartment too, and the one-bedroom gets uncomfortably crowded. The toilet breaks, and the kitchen sink starts leaking so badly that it floods the entire floor in a puddle deep enough to ripple. Then, suddenly, Trisha and Sunny and Sunny's people leave, and Arleen gets a few days of peace and quiet to herself before movers storm the place. It turns out that Chris, Trisha's previous abusive boyfriend, has been released from custody, and Trisha's payee has moved her from the apartment because she doesn't think Trisha is safe there.

Arleen bounces around some more. She gets evicted, she struggles back to her feet, she gets knocked down again. She and her boys get robbed at gunpoint. They lose all the belongings they'd kept in storage. They briefly get an apartment that costs $600 of Arleen's $628 monthly welfare check, and not surprisingly can't hold it for long.

Arleen loses custody of her kids, struggles some more, regains custody. She gets another apartment, this one small and unfurnished, with no stove or refrigerator. Her family, unable to cook at home and with no money for groceries anyway, relies on soup kitchens and food pantries to keep from starving.

Desmond leaves them there. Jori expresses a wish "to become a carpenter so he could build Arleen a house. 'People be not thinking that I can do this. But you watch,' he said.

Arleen smiled at Jori. 'I wish my life were different,' she said. 'I wish that when I be an old lady, I can sit back and look at my kids. And they be grown. And they, you know, become something. Something more than me. And we'll all be together, and be laughing. We be remembering stuff like this and be laughing at it.'"



NOTES: This is probably the starkest illustration, but a running theme throughout this book has been an unspoken refutation of the argument that the very poor should just cook healthy food from scratch at home.

Cook with what appliances? Using what dishes, what utensils, what spices? If you've been recently evicted or transient, you likely don't have those things, or they're tied up in storage. When you're genuinely poor and renting a bottom-market apartment, you don't have a fridge, you don't have a stove, you're probably behind on your gas and electric. Even if you had access to half-decent grocery stores (no sure thing), money to afford groceries (doubtful!) and the necessary skills to cook (because, you know, everybody here grew up in a loving, stable, non-destitute home that taught all *sorts* of useful skills), you would therefore lack the means to use them.

Another running theme throughout _Evicted_ has been that most of the people profiled in these pages, contrary to welfare stereotypes, don't actually use drugs. Arleen smokes an occasional joint, but that's about it. Larraine, Vanetta, and Crystal all make a point of avoiding drugs and alcohol. The only hardcore addicts are the white characters -- Scott with heroin, Ned and Pam with crack, heroin, and whatever else they can get their hands on -- and they *still* get better outcomes than the black characters who stay totally sober.
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Postby Merciel » Sun Jun 24, 2018 8:38 pm

Evicted, Epilogue:

I summarized some of this at the beginning of the project, but it's pretty dense so there's a lot of other material here to mine.

Desmond opens by reiterating the centrality of a warm, stable home to people's psychological and physical wellbeing, their conception of themselves as citizens, and their ability to provide a safe haven for their families. He writes:

"The persistence and brutality of American poverty can be disheartening, leaving us cynical about solutions. But as Scott and Patrice* will tell you, a good home can serve as the sturdiest of footholds. When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers, and citizens.

If Arleen and Vanetta didn't have to dedicate 70 or 80 percent of their income to rent, they could keep their kids fed and clothed and off the streets. They could settle down in one neighborhood and enroll their children in one school, providing them the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships with friends, role models, and teachers. They could start a savings account or buy their children toys and books, perhaps even a home computer. The time and emotional energy they spent making rent, delaying eviction, or finding another place to live when homeless could instead be spent on things that enriched their lives: community college classes, exercise, finding a good job, maybe a good man too.

But our current state of affairs 'reduces to poverty people born for better things.' [...]

All this suffering is shameful and unnecessary. Because it is unnecessary, there is hope. These problems are neither intractable nor eternal. A different kind of society is possible, and powerful solutions are within our collective reach.

But those solutions depend on how we answer a single question: do we believe that the right to a decent home is part of what it means to be an American?"

From there, Desmond goes into a discussion of potential solutions, reviewing the history and successes (and failures) of various attempted solutions in America. He notes that there actually has been considerable progress made, despite the widely publicized (and widely misunderstood) failures of the towering housing projects that came to symbolize public housing efforts in America.

He also reviews the problems with existing solutions: housing projects are inadequate to meet the scope of the need and, given American political views, likely to replicate the previous problems with underfunding and collecting concentrated poverty into dysfunctional ghettoes; current rent voucher programs are a windfall to landlords and an inefficient use of taxpayer money; merely handing more money to tenants, without imposing some form of rent control, will result in that money immediately being extracted from them via raised rents, with no net improvements in the tenants' welfare.

In light of these issues, Desmond proposes a two-pronged solution: one, better legal representation for tenants to enforce the rights they have; two, a system of universal housing vouchers coupled with rent controls that would enable landlords to make a reasonable profit without enabling the extreme inequalities and exploitations documented in his book. Program administrators would act as arbiters to ensure that neither party abused the system, that properties were held to a minimum acceptable standard, and that there was still a mechanism to be rid of genuinely troublesome tenants.

There's considerable discussion of the details and the pros and cons of the proposed program, as well as an overview of similar programs in other countries (by Desmond's account, nearly every other developed country has opted for a system of universal or near-universal housing vouchers to address this problem, leaving the U.S. once again an outlier in its punitive treatment of poverty). I would encourage anyone interested in the fine-grained details to read the book; I'm not going to summarize them here.

Desmond also calls for people who have studied and thought hard about the problem to propose alternative solutions. He notes that this program would be affordable (at least, assuming we didn't want to give that money to giant corporations and the 1% instead), but other solutions might be equally feasible and perhaps more effective.

And with that, the book ends.

(* -- The Hinkstons ended up leaving Milwaukee, which dramatically improved their lives: "After Malik Jr. was born, Patrice and Doreen did finally move to Brownsville, Tennessee, a town of about 10,000. They found a nice three-bedroom place. Out of the rat hole, Patrice earned her GED, impressing her teacher so much that she was named Adult Learner of the Year. Patrice went on to enroll in a local community college, where she took online classes in computers and criminal justice, hoping to one day become a parole officer. She liked to half joke, 'I got a lot of friends who are criminal who are going to need my help!'")
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Postby Merciel » Mon Jun 25, 2018 2:12 pm

cross-post to Philadelphia thread:

Next up on our Facebook Amateur Sociology Project is Mara Bloomfield Cucchiara's _Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities_, a study of select Center City schools in Philadelphia and how they transformed from roughly 2000 - 2010, with a particular focus on about 2003 through 2006 or thereabouts. This is, essentially, a story about public school gentrification, and how and why Philadelphia chose to actively (and very successfully) promote the gentrification of the three main Center City K-through-8 public elementary schools.

All the main schools are given pseudonyms in the book, but it's mostly about McCall Elementary, with supporting appearances by Meredith and Greenfield (the other two schools that were involved in the big gentrification push), Masterman, Penn Alexander, and Powel.

Absent the Philly connection, I'm not so sure I would have found this book a tremendously rewarding read, because on a number of levels it strikes me as a missed opportunity. School gentrification is a hot-button issue with a lot of conflicting interests, imperatives, and trade-offs, and IMO if you're really going to do justice to the topic, you need to dig in and present detailed, honest case studies and individual stories in the way that Matthew Desmond does in _Evicted._ Otherwise, the costs and consequences feel vague and conclusory, and the argument isn't nearly as compelling as it would have been if it had been tied to people rather than ill-defined labels.

In this book, Cucchiara doesn't really do that. She never interviews any of the students and only does a few interviews with the parents, teachers, and business leaders involved in the marketing push. So the book ends up being a really good and detailed how-to manual on How to Get Professional Parents to Join and Improve Your Mediocre City School, but it's largely silent as to what that felt like on a personal, day-to-day level for the people who were affected.

It's also largely silent as to the consequences, other than some broad-strokes, fairly abstract demographic data (e.g. McCall's enrollment flipped from having a bunch of black kids to having a bunch of white kids, but both before and after the gentrification push, Asian students were the largest group. So what does that mean for the kids? How does it change the tenor of the school? Who knows! You never find out!).

I *suspect* -- and this is partly just me crackpotting, but also I worked in juvenile court for a long and bleak stretch earlier in my career, so I saw a fair number of Philadelphia public school students at the opposite end of the spectrum right around the time this gentrification push was happening -- that this is because the ugly truth is that poor students who go to disadvantaged schools (and who are largely black or Hispanic) tend to be really, really crappy students. They're academically behind and behaviorally disruptive. Their home lives are often unstable and their friends are often delinquent, if not outright criminal.

If you're going to tell an honest story about the Philadelphia public school system, you have to confront that truth with the same honesty that Desmond brought to Larraine's frivolous spending habits, Trisha's serially abusive boyfriends, and Pam's tolerance of Ned's racial slurs toward her own daughters. You can, and should, explain *why* all that stuff happens, and how those individual decisions are spurred by the social framework that we've collectively built around them, but you do have to confront that it happens.

There are a lot of factually grounded reasons that affluent Center City parents did not want to send their kids to school with poor kids from other neighborhoods. An honest writer has to acknowledge that. And *then,* but only then, you might be able to make a persuasive argument about why they should do it anyway (if you *want* to make that argument, anyway, which Cucchiara seems to want to, but never entirely commits herself to backing).

The book actually doesn't get into consequences that much at all. Not only do we never find out what the changes felt like from the individual stakeholders' points of view, but we also never find out what the broader consequences were for the city (other than, again, some broad-brush observations about increasing inequality and economic segregation in Philadelphia, which is all 100% true but is also pretty obvious and never gets connected to individual experiences or results).

We never hear about how the success of the original Center City schools began spilling over to adjacent schools like Jackson and Nebinger, which are starting to draw a lot of affluent households that can't fit into the Meredith catchment today. Does the improvement in those adjacent schools benefit more low-income students than got pushed out by the original Meredith/McCall/Greenfield gentrification? Does it look like Jackson and Nebinger are simply going to replicate the original pattern of short-term benefit for one cohort of kids --> long-term exclusion for those who come after them? Is that worth the increased revenues and improved public opinion that the Philadelphia public school district gains across the board from incorporating more middle- and upper-middle-class families?

WHO KNOWS THE AUTHOR NEVER DISCUSSES IT.

So, to me at least, it feels like a pretty frustratingly limited work of sociology. But there's a lot of inside baseball about Center City elementary schools and some decent observations about public school gentrification generally, so that will be our next book up for discussion.
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Postby Merciel » Tue Jun 26, 2018 12:06 am

Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities, Pt. 1:

Rather than summarizing the book chapter-by-chapter, I'm going to reorganize it a bit, because I think that will help the ideas flow a little more smoothly in this format.

The backdrop to this book is the fact that Philadelphia, like basically every big, old American city, suffered drastically from white flight and a shrinking tax base up through at least the late '90s. In the early 2000s, Philly (again, like most big, old American cities) started to see the signs of a nascent turnaround as millennials and empty-nesters began coming back to the city, but there was a widespread sense among city politicians and business leaders that this turnaround was fragile and, moreover, that "[i]f Philadelphia was to 'sustain the revival' that had been drawing highly educated young professionals to the region, the city needed to convince the 'people with six-year-olds' not to head for the suburbs." Otherwise, city leaders worried, young families would leave for suburban schools during the peak years that they might invest their energies (and earnings) into the city and its communities.

Therefore, Cucchiara writes, the Center City District (CCD), an organization of local business owners and development interests whose primary goal is advancing the revitalization of Philly generally and Center City specifically, "identified 'a strategic opportunity for Center City to become a premier neighborhood of choice in the region for young families and children -- if we can improve the quality and customer focus of public schools.' [...] The CCD hoped that as more Center City families entered the public schools, suburban flight would be stemmed, the city would be more affordable for middle- and upper-middle-class parents (because they would not have to pay for private schools), and Philadelphia's appeal as a place to work and live would be enhanced."

Thus, "[f]rom the beginning, the [school marketing] initiative drew an explicit and public connection between attracting professional-class families and the future of the city[.]" The "core logic" of the initiative was that the city would be better off if it could persuade these middle and upper-middle-class parents to invest their private resources and social, cultural, and financial capital into public institutions, and that it was therefore worth courting these parents as "more worthy and important than other sectors of the population," and their "families as unequally valuable."

Cucchiara identifies "tensions between two goals: growth and equity. Should cities promote economic development and the competition for mobile capital and labor (growth), even at the expense of low-income communities? Or should cities advance the interests of their least advantaged (equity), even at the risk of becoming less attractive to capital investment and middle- and upper-income families? In the end, urban leaders in the United States have most often embraced growth-oriented policies, believing (not unreasonably, given the larger context of 'fend-for-yourself federalism') that cities that did not compete effectively for capital investment would not survive."

(I'll interject a side note here that the data supports those city leaders' assumption, and furthermore the data shows that even at the neighborhood level, neighborhoods which do not continually attract new residents and income tend to drop into increasingly concentrated poverty over time. Basically, it's grow or die. [This is, btw, one of the reasons immigrants are so valuable to communities, because they provide economic growth and social stability without fueling massive inequalities.])

Cucchiara then reviews the literature showing that low-income students do better when they attend economically integrated schools, that all students do poorly when they attend high-poverty schools, and that schools with a large proportion of middle-class parents tend to foster higher student achievement. All of this is pretty intuitive so I'm not going to spend much time on it, but if anybody wants more details let me know. The upshot is that "city officials and the new [gentrifying] residents assumed that the presence of middle-class residents would be good for low-income communities, both because they would bring improved services and resources and because they would 'model' appropriate behaviors."

This leads to a subtly different conception of citizenship, "replac[ing] basic notions of entitlement with an emphasis on exchange. People are entitled to full civic participation only if they have something of value to offer. [...]

In the context of dwindling government resources devoted to addressing poverty and urban decline, policies that give special treatment to the middle class and upper-middle class are frequently legitimized as a means of bringing about some larger social good (e.g., saving the city or fixing the schools). This book chronicles Philadelphia's mixed experiences combining urban revitalization with school reform. But it also tells a bigger and more troubling story about the systematic movement away from the core democratic ideals of seeing each citizen as equally valuable and worthy of full participation in democratic institutions."

The key problem at the base of all this, though, is that from the standpoint of the stakeholders in the school system, these families *are* unequally valuable, in the most literal sense. If the Philly schools (and the city itself) weren't so desperately under-resourced, they might have been more able to treat students and families equally, but as anybody who's ever had to deal with salary negotiations or unreasonable clients knows, it's hard to say "no" when that's the only paycheck on the table.

So that's the key underlying dynamic -- the city schools need affluent families to buy in, but affluent families do not need the city schools, since they can either send their kids to private school or move to Lower Merion -- and it's going to drive everything we see in the chapters that follow.
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