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Op-Ed: The Shortcomings of Matthew Desmond's 'Evicted'

Matthew Desmond's ethnographic study has received critical praise. But David Adler asks whether the book's approach tacitly lets affluent non-landlords off the hook.
May 20, 2017, 1pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Matthew Desmond's Pulitzer-winning Evicted looks as America's housing crisis through the eyes of its underdogs: tenants at the mercy of profiteering landlords. While publicizing those perspectives is important, David Adler gets the sense that "most readers feel that the Desmond's evictions are distant from them — something they merely observe as sympathetic spectators, rather than something in which all of us actively participate."

Adler doubts whether housing vouchers could really achieve much in tight speculative markets. "The deceptive simplicity of Desmond's policy prescription—housing vouchers—implies that an inclusive housing system can be accomplished in one fell swoop, without any substantial sacrifices or lifestyle change on the part of the privileged."

"This is the piece that is missing from Desmond's Evicted: housing markets are broadly zero-sum. Accumulation for some is immiseration for others. We are all tied together — landlords and tenants, homeowners and homeless." A truly inclusive housing situation, Adler suggests, may not be possible under the traditional conception of a "market."

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Published on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 in Current Affairs
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