The Collegian
Monday, December 04, 2023

Richmond One Book speaker addresses eviction and poverty in the U.S.

<p>Matthew Desmond spoke to the university community&nbsp;Wednesday&nbsp;about evictions and poverty in the U.S.&nbsp;</p>

Matthew Desmond spoke to the university community Wednesday about evictions and poverty in the U.S. 

Matthew Desmond, an affordable-housing advocate and author of the national bestseller "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City," spoke to students, faculty and community members Wednesday night at Richmond's annual One Book, One Richmond event, addressing how evictions contribute to housing inequality in America.

"Evicted" is this year’s book for the One Book, One Richmond program that aims to engage the campus and community in important social issues.

Desmond explained how evictions and housing inequality contribute to the paradoxical reality that the U.S. is the richest democracy with the worst poverty rate.

“Eviction is a cause and not just a condition of poverty,” Desmond said. “We can’t fix poverty in America without fixing housing.”

To write his book "Evicted," Desmond moved into a trailer park in Milwaukee for 10 months to fully immerse himself in the housing crisis in one of the poorest cities in America. Desmond followed the lives of several families facing evictions as well as the lives of landlords to fully understand the entire process.

Desmond told the Richmond audience about how he connected the lives of the people profiled in his book to national issues of housing and poverty.

“This is a widespread problem," he said. "This isn’t just a Milwaukee problem."

The lecture was part of the Peple Lecture series and took place in the Cannon Memorial Chapel, which was filled to capacity.

Jamie Earls, WC ’20, was required to read "Evicted" for a leadership class, as well as her first-year seminar.

“Even if the event tonight hadn’t been required, I would have come anyway because I enjoyed reading the book,” she said.

Professor Mary Finley-Brook began using "Evicted" in her geographic dimensions and human development course when it was first published two years ago.

“Desmond’s first-hand account of the situation in Milwaukee is useful in comparatively analyzing housing inequality in America,” she said.

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Dillon Plunkett, RC ’17, is currently enrolled in Finley-Brook’s class and attended the speech as part of the course requirement.

“It was an interesting book, and I’m looking forward to hearing him elaborate more on the solutions he proposed in the epilogue,” Plunkett said before the event.

Community members Richard and Marlene Ebert read "Evicted" as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Richmond and then attended the speech.

“After living in Milwaukee for 45 years, the book and then the speech tonight gave me a new view of poverty and how it comes about,” Richard Ebert said.

His wife shared this sentiment.

“I thought Matthew Desmond did a great job of showing the many ramifications of evictions,” Marlene Ebert added.

Joanna Hejl, WC ’20, initially read the book for her roadmap class and met Desmond at the reception following the speech.

“I’m interested in different aspects of public policy, and the book really inspired me to take action,” Hejl said.

During the lecture, Desmond specifically addressed the university students in attendance, urging them to become involved in the fight against housing inequality.

“This is a young person’s issue,” he said. “This is an issue you all should be addressing.”

Contact reporter Claire Mendelson at

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