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The three last sociopaths competing for the Republican nomination will be debating this Tuesday in Milwaukee. Of course, they will be pushing visions that are counter to the interests of the people who actually live in Milwaukee, as opposed to the racist white suburbs that are Scott Walker’s base.

Desmond’s harrowing data points about the material indignities of Milwaukee poverty derive in turn from hard, ugly facts about America as a whole. Well-paying jobs fled the city to be replaced with service sector work that paid less than half as much. Those who turn to the criminal economy in order to keep the roaches out of their kids’ cereal boxes, or just to avoid eviction from their current rat hole, end up having to check a box on every job application acknowledging their criminal record and dooming their chances of getting a call back.

One in four times that an impoverished Milwaukee family moved house from 2009 to 2011, it was involuntary. Most of those forced uprootings were formal evictions, though Desmond notes that landlords who don’t want to bother with housing court and sheriff’s eviction squads sometimes tear the front door off a delinquent tenant’s home or otherwise push them out informally.

While evictions are commonplace today, Desmond writes that American communities used to rally together against them with force and verve. A New York Times article from the Depression era once described a 1,000-person anti-eviction protest crowd as small.

When they’re not evicting people, Desmond writes, Milwaukee’s slumlords encourage them to “trade their dignity and children’s health for a roof over their head.”

One in five Milwaukee renters lives with broken windows, busted appliances, or days-long rat or roach problems. One in three have had their plumbing clogged up for more than a day. One in 10 have endured a day with no heat. Kicking up a fuss about any of these problems might mean a city inspector came out and cited the landlord, but it would probably also mean being evicted and starting from scratch.

Desmond’s reporting reveals a casual brutality grinded into every corner of the low-income rental market by decades of job flight, poverty, and neglect.

An inner-city landlord named Sherrena Tarver, while at times callous, is laboring away on her own hamster wheel of incentives and constraints. A woman named Arleen moves her boys into a shelter after Sherrena evicts them, and goes through 90 different landlords with open listings just to find a single one who will take her – and days later, they toss her back out on the street again.

There’s the trailer park manager who supervises a hard-assed Illinois man’s investment in white destitution, and a woman on disability for a middle school hip fracture that was never treated. There are housing court commissioners who crank out scores of evictions every day, often awarding landlords the right to collect debts later from any flat-broke tenant who manages to turn her life around.

The landscape corrupts all who deal in it. And beyond the immediate landscape, a complex and far-flung industry extracts profit from the evictions churn by selling related services to landlords and tenants alike.

It’s a sort of cottage industry designed to extract profit from a crisis that American cities create by failing to build and maintain enough housing that their residents can actually afford. Trump’s own early career involved some real estate dealings that contributed to that shortage, focusing his resources on building luxury housing where dense, rent-controlled units previously stood.

The only mistake made here is emphasizing Trump. This isn’t Trump’s America. It’s Republican America. It’s Scott Walker’s America. It’s an America of over a century of the exploitation of black communities by zoning laws, slumlords, housing markets, urban renewal, de facto and de jure segregation, all tied together in a big package of racism. Hell, it isn’t Trump’s America. It’s just America.

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  • Warren Terra

    The three last sociopaths competing for the Republican nomination will be debating this Tuesday in Milwaukee.

    Debate’s on Monday, primary’s on Tuesday.

    • Hercules Mulligan

      Is there really another debate? Really? Please, god, kill me now.

      • Brett

        Me too. I thought we were fucking done with those after Trump bailed on the debate in Salt Lake City. Maybe his numbers aren’t looking so good, and he realizes he needs to wade back in again.

        Another 2 hours of watching Trump show up unprepared and make an ass of himself while Cruz goes after him and Kasich acts like he’s somehow moderate and serious (as opposed to the religious fanatic and hardline conservative he actually is), only for Trump to somehow come out the winner of the debate.

        • Hercules Mulligan

          I, uh, literally can’t find any info about this. I just see a “LIVE ONE HOUR EXCLUSIVE” Hannity/Trump interview. Are we sure this is real?

          • Warren Terra

            I Googled it and saw, in huge print: Monday.
            I just did it again, and read past the first word: Monday March 21. Which is either in the past or far in the future. So, in a word, no. Not sure.

  • We need a massive public works program aimed at affordable or subsidized housing specifically for poor people. We also need a national renter’s “bill of rights” that protects renters from bad landlords and/or brings help specifically to people who get evicted when they get evicted–that is, that is triggered by eviction notices. Housing instability is terrible for everyone but especially for families with young or teenage children.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Yeah housing assistance that gets triggered with an eviction would be nice. My parents took over my grandmother’s house when she passed and we rented it out for a few years. Out of the 3 tenants we took in over that time we had to evict 2. We would’ve evicted the 3rd had she not been a personal friend of the family. All the tenants except 1 came with personal references. And it wasn’t easy either. We let the last family slide on 10 months of rent. Even worse they were really hard on the place. We felt sorry for having to evict them but you gotta do what you gotta do. Ten months no rent is just too long.

      It was just too much trouble and too little money. Finally sold it to a nice Hispanic family. They’ve done a really nice job keeping it up.

    • We need a massive public works program aimed at affordable or subsidized housing specifically for poor people.

      The funny thing is, we don’t. The developers and property owners would love to build housing for poor people. There is a metric shit-ton of money to be made in low-income housing, and I’m not talking about by screwing them, either, but by providing decent but modest housing for modest rents.

      We need to stop doing what we’re doing that prevents the market from doing what it wants to do. And most of that means weakening the stranglehold of suburban snobs on development policy.

      • LeeEsq

        We definitely don’t need a National Renter’s Bill of Rights because that would just turn renters into another NIMBY group.

        Housing policy must be one of the biggest divide among American liberals. Many are still advocating for hard left and mid-20th century liberal policies like rent control, National Renter’s Bill of Rights, and public housing. The other just things making it easier to actually build will be enough.

        • Instead, renters are the only group that doesn’t have an organized voice. Given the number of renters that are poor and people of color, there’s no down side to the current scenario at all!

          • Brett

            They aren’t? I’m pretty sure the cities with rent control all have tenant advocacy groups, and in the case of Washington D.C. an actual office for tenant advocates.

            • Anna in PDX

              Without protections in law, these groups cannot do much more than listen to the complaints. There are some fair housing things they can do but they can’t do much about no-cause evictions. They can advocate, but the things they advocate are… protections in law. And since they are not a lobby that has money to spend, their main way of advocacy is to hold protests and try to guilt lawmakers into passing protections.

              Section 8 has a lobby (landlords) and has not been cut as much as other forms of public housing, because of its lobby. Lobbies keep programs going. Renters can’t be a lobby because they have no money.

        • We need to do more to protects renters’ rights anyway, to prevent abuses. It’s certainly true that the artificial shortage makes renters more vulnerable to abusive landlords and that increasing the affordable housing stock would take pressure off and help the situation, but it’s always going to be a relationship of unequal power, especially at the lower end of the income scale, and needs some special protections.

          As for rent control, even if there were a zillion affordable rental units being built in the close-in suburbs, I’d still argue that it would be worthwhile, if only to maintain some diversity in gentrifying cities.

          • Brett

            I think that after the first three one-year leases, landlords should be required to offer them a longer lease (like a 5- or 10-year-lease, or longer). The tenants wouldn’t have to accept it and could continue on a one-year lease (or a month-to-month lease if they wanted to), but it would be there.

        • Anna in PDX

          We need renter protections in areas that have housing shortages though. State level protections are good, but not all states are run by sane people. What do you do if they are not? Oregon has no cause evictions and until the most recent legislative session this past February, they only required a 30 day notice to renters if they’re not under a long term lease. This is a real hardship in a market like Portland’s. Markets change rapidly. I don’t understand what you mean when you say a national set of renter protections would turn renters into a NIMBY group.

          • zoinks

            You are asking a smallish and often not very rich group of people (landlords) to bear the burden of helping poor people generally.

            There are times when that might work, for example landlords in San Francisco are all getting rich very quick, and asking them to share the wealth is reasonable. But for the most part, when you make being a landlord more expensive, you get less rental housing, and at a higher cost.

            These stronger eviction laws you advocate in practice can make being a landlord hell, and one problem tenant gaming the system and drawing out an eviction can destroy a decade’s worth of rental profits. TJ’s experience is instructive, he had someone not pay for 10 months, and gave up given the cost and took the house out of the rental pool.

            • Just_Dropping_By

              Yes, one of the massive ironies in many of the proposals for increased renter protections is that the most immediate effect will be to wipe out small middle-class landlords, reduce the number of rental units available as the small landlords sell the properties off, and concentrate ownership of the remaining residential rental properties into the hands of large property management companies.

      • DocAmazing

        If there’s money to be made in housing the poor, you wouldn’t know it talking to developers in the Bay Area, for whom “market rate” means “aimed at the very wealthy” and for whom the phrase “affordable housing triggers seizures.

        • That’s an outcome of the extreme pressures in that particular area, both on the supply end and the demand end – way too many market-rate people chasing far too few units, with an urbanized area that is much too geographically constrained.

          Using the Bay Area as a model for discussing affordable housing issues is like using mid-town Manhattan as a model when discussing walkable urbanism.

          • Anna in PDX

            Well the problems are so serious in those expensive areas – hey I live in one too so I know whereof I speak, even though Portland is not currently quite as bad as the Bay area – that they need emergency solutions. Oregon has actually just passed some renter protections at the state level many of which are specifically designed to help Portland cope. We can now do a limited amount of inclusionary zoning (not for the really poor though, just the moderately poor since the new state law is for 80% median income) and no cause evictions have to have a 90 day notice period. Baby steps from the point of view of renters in our insane housing market, but really badly needed ones. (Prior to this new law, inclusionary zoning was prohibited by state law, meaning it is really tough to provide market incentives for affordable housing – unless we had a lot more money to subsidize the housing projects and/or give out tax incentives.)

            It’s true that places with different problems will need different solutions. But the big metro areas on the West coast are all facing a housing crisis that needs solving now, even if their solutions won’t be a model for other cities in the country.

          • Thom

            This will be a while, but it is going to be worse when sea level rise takes out a lot of the housing that was built on fill in the Bay Area up through the mid 1960s.

        • Philip

          I’m with Joe on this. Right now, units that in any sane universe would be affordable are sky-high because there’s not enough housing to fill demand at any income level. Seriously, spend a few weeks tracking units in, say, the Mission or the Tenderloin or something, even on something as non-representative as Zillow. High-income people will apply for virtually anything you throw on the market.

        • DrDick

          That is true here in little Missoula, MT. The median house price is $229,000, with new homes listing over $300,000, and the median household income for the city is a bit over $44,000.

          • Is there multi-family housing in Missoula, MT? Is it possible to build rental housing at all?

            • Denverite

              Since the University of Montana is there, I imagine there is a crapload of apartment housing. There are apartments in Riverton, WY (population 10,000) because there is a community college (with the state’s big nursing program) there.

              • OK, but that doesn’t really help on the affordable housing front, because that would mean the rental stock is taken up by college kids.

                • DrDick

                  Most of the newer apartments are way too expensive for students (see mine in response to you below).

            • DrDick

              There has been a lot of it built here in the past several years, but population growth has kept the supply tight. The median rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $700/month.

              • That sounds like a dream come true to me.

                • The commute from Butte to Lowell is a killer, though.

                • DrDick

                  The commute from Butte to Lowell is a killer, though.

                  It is much worse from Missoula, which is where I am. Rent and house prices in Butte are actually much lower than here. Of course, you have to live next to the Berkeley Pit.

      • geep9

        not just suburban

        • Mostly suburban. I’m all for some up zoning in some urban areas, but when you look at the land area and the boundaries, the restrictions in the cities themselves are a drop in the bucket.

          The urban area of cities should be allowed to grow, and it’s not.

  • John Revolta

    Well yeah but, the “hook” here (and I think it’s a fair one) is that Trump’s own fortune, and the only reason anybody’s ever heard of his sad ass, springs out of this very same “cottage industry”, and he and his old man were in fact early and dirty players. Worth remembering.

  • DrDick

    How will our plutocratic lords and masters know they are God’s Chosen People if the poor are not severely punished for their sins and made to suffer horrifically for their whole lives?

    • BigHank53

      Can’t really be a winner unless you see the losers weeping in misery, I guess.

  • MAJeff

    The only mistake made here is emphasizing Trump. This isn’t Trump’s America. It’s Republican America….Hell, it isn’t Trump’s America. It’s just America.

    Exactly. Many segregatory state practices were undertaken by urban Democratic machines. White supremacy was a non-partisan affair for pretty much all of American history. There’s been a divergence between the parties on that issue over the past 65 years or so, but the Democratic move toward a multi-racial coalition has been riddled with returns to racism. This is the America one party wishes it could ignore, while the other pursues it.

    • Although I think it’s important to point out that the only northern metro area where the suburbs have become more Republican in the last 15-20 years or so is Milwaukee. In general suburbs have become more Democratic than they were in the 80’s, in part because of changing politics nationally and regionally, that’s led white northern suburbanites to be more likely to vote Democratic, but also because suburbs in most areas have become much more diverse, through immigration, but also because of African-Americans moving out of central cities in to suburbs.

  • Welcome to America, where the citizenry is merely a profit source to be sucked dry.

  • Damn, that was depressing.

    • DrDick

      Welcome to my world. I teach about this every spring.

  • Anna in PDX

    I agree that the Trump framing was confusing. The article was essentially a book review, but its headline made it sound like it was about the upcoming Wisconsin primary. The connection was sort of understandable, but the headline was very misleading and since I tend to skim, I had to stop and read it again to figure out what I was reading about.

  • mcarson

    We all know about the giant housing projects that were torn down. They weren’t structured right, in that they herded all the poor people into 1 concentrated area that became neglected over time because only poor people were in it.
    What I want is some sort of giant housing project in the big cities, so poor families who work in crap jobs can have a place to live that doesn’t require a car or a 2 hour bus ride each way to go to work.
    Has anyone designed something like this, as a test project? I’m looking for info on something that can house 100 or more families. I’ve seen smaller projects for troubled veterans, which have small apartments, many of them studios, along with some social service and medical care in the building, since these are people with long term disabilities from the war. They’ve worked well, because they played into the guys military service as an organizing force. They had meetings like AA meetings, along with game nights and movie nights and whatever to encourage a community feeling.
    I think the same thing could happen with housing, maybe with a nurse practitioner having an office on the ground floor, and some well run daycare in the building. There could be after school care along with a place for scout groups or whatever to meet, craft classes, that sort of thing.
    I’ve heard of designing a building that’s 1/3 to 1/2 subsidized housing, along with the rest being the same sort of units priced at about market rates, using the daycare, etc. as a draw to avoid the 100% Section 8 building problems.
    It seems like if there was a good, tested design for something like this it would be a way to take care of a lot of housing based problems quickly, once you held some house members hostage so the rest would vote on the bill. The only problem would be figuring out who to kidnap, since I have trouble thinking of 5 or 10 legislators that more than half of the remaining would want to ransom.
    Has anyone seen something like this as a test project or written up somewhere?

  • That racial dot map is so cool.

    Look at how Iowa/Western Illinois/Missouri is like a net with the evenly-spaced small towns and just traces of population linking then in a regular pattern.

    Also, Texas cities area really, really segregated.

    • nosmo king

      Apologies if you’ve heard this before, but a lot of that settlement pattern is due to early steam trains not being able to go further than 5 – 7 miles without needing water. Hence little towns on rail lines every 5 to 7 miles. By the 1870s, certainly, condensers had given trains greater range, and you see further west the towns are more spread out.

      One of the problems of midwestern small town life is there never has been another reason for there to be so many of them, other than the state of steam technology when they were settled. My home town is doing better than the one 5 miles east, and the one 5 miles west, but not by much.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        I thought that was more to do with how far they could push horses. this part of the state was settled in the 1850s but the railroads didn’t come into the picture for another 25 years or so

      • Makes sense. I’d thought it was a reflection of the parcelization from the Homestead program.

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