Over the past four years of living in Austin full-time and San Francisco for two summers, I have heard a lot of discussion about how housing strategies in urban areas. I recently finished the Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which I found to be an amazing read about this exact issue.
Evicted is written by Princeton sociologist and MacArther Foundation “Genius” Matthew Desmond. It follows the lives of several families who face evictions while living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The stories of these individuals resonate deeply – leading me to want to share them with close friends, family members, and even the nurse at my doctor’s office. Furthermore, Desmond exposes the challenges and struggles of not only tenants, but also landlords and governmental programs. I felt like my empathy and care grew while reading the book, as well as my understanding of the complexities of addressing the housing needs of the poor.
Accompanying the main text are dozens of footnotes. These contain very insightful technical commentary, including details about how related statistical studies were conducted. I really enjoyed reading these notes because they provided an education about using quantitative data science and programming skills in social science research. They also cited helpful data sources and papers that the reader could use for her own investigation and analysis later. Furthermore, his footnotes include detailed explanations of laws and regulations that have created today’s housing situation. I appreciated this primer, given my very limited academic exposure to housing-related literature.
Finally, Desmond concludes the book by sharing how he was able to conduct his research and the experience he had living with and meeting the families he wrote about. I really enjoyed being able to understand and value the vast amount of work that he put into researching and writing this book. It also provided a very helpful perspective in how someone might go about doing similar forms of deep research – whether in the area of housing or elsewhere.
If you don’t have the time to read Evicted right now, I suggest checking out the recent New York Times series about housing which captures many similar ideas. Desmond also shares two data sources that he developed while researching for the book — one about eviction and the other about renters — these could be interesting sources for a data science project. If you decide to read the book or check out any of the related sources, let me know — I’d love to discuss it!
Also published on Medium.