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3 Key Take-Aways from Evicted at the National Building Museum

Posted on November 28, 2018

Based on the best-selling book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, the National Building Museum is currently showing an exhibition “Evicted.” The exhibit debuted in April 2018 and will run through May 2019.

“Evicted” chronicles the process of eviction for low-income renters and impacts of eviction on the lives of those who are most vulnerable in the housing system. Using statistics, graphics, visual pieces of art, and multimedia, the exhibit takes the viewer through the process of eviction and depicts the different effects eviction can have on a family. The power of the visuals of the exhibit was outstanding.

While eviction affects millions of families per year in the United States, some communities are disproportionately affected. Eviction is most common for African American single mothers, and poor single mothers are particularly at risk of eviction. Desmond’s research found that among Milwaukee renters, one in five black women report having been evicted at some point in their adult life. The same is true for roughly one in 12 hispanic women, and one in 15 white women.

Children who live in families that face eviction may grow up with greater risks of mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and are at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness as adults.  

Here are a few key take-aways from the exhibit:

Impact of art and advocacy:

The exhibit used artwork and visual representations of facts and statistics to convey the message of “Evicted” and demonstrate the pervasive issue of housing insecurity throughout the United States. The exhibit featured structures in the shape of homes which visitors could go inside of and watch media such as interviews or clips from documentaries. This interactive experience gives the visitor an immersive experience in the exhibit.

The mental and physical effects of eviction:

The process of eviction poses several challenges for the wellbeing of families. If a landlord files for a court-ordered eviction, a tenant will need to make childcare arrangements, find transportation, and take time off work. This process disproportionately affects low-income renters who may not be financially able to afford childcare or miss days from work. It can also be difficult for those renters who do not speak English to understand the complicated legal arguments or understand what forms they are singing. It also prevents them from seeing opportunities to fight for their rights or delay eviction.

This entire process can negatively impact the physical and mental health of the families affected by eviction. As Desmond writes, “eviction can be a cause, rather than a result of poverty.” According Desmond, individuals who have gone through an eviction are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health challenges. Also, frequent moves disrupt healthcare, especially for people with chronic illnesses who have built relationships with doctors in their neighborhoods. For children, the frequent changing of schools interrupts their ability to make relationships with peers, counselors, and teachers, and stay up-to-date with current curriculum.

All of these changes build up as added stress on a family.

What activists have been doing across the nation:

The end of the exhibit featured a map of the United States, highlighting where different organizations have taken steps towards guaranteeing more tenant rights and preventing evictions. Here in DC, the campaign #OurHomesOurVoices works to convince Congress to reserve more funds for housing subsidies and low income renters. The organization also works to incentivize developers to build more affordable housing. The organization Homestart has prevented more than 2,500 evictions in the Boston Area. By providing low income and at-risk households with legal advice and rental assistance payments, the organization works to prevent evictions and end homelessness in Boston.

Homelessness and eviction go hand in hand. Often, homelessness is a result of eviction. Eviction leaves vulnerable tenants with no place to go, and it is often hard to crawl out of poverty in cities that have financial and prejudicial barriers to jobs, healthcare, and housing.

Thrive DC’s services work to aid those who have fallen victim to the eviction process, by offering meals, showers, and laundry services. Beyond these emergency services, Thrive DC also provides clients with either legal advice or career coaching, both of which can help our clients get back on their feet.

Written by Colleen, Communications Intern at Thrive DC

Colleen is a junior at the George Washington University double majoring in English and journalism with a minor in creative writing. Originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Colleen hopes to enter the world of communications post graduation and hopefully work in the nonprofit field. Colleen is passionate about housing in D.C., and previously interned with Street Sense Media, a D.C. newspaper dedicated to reporting on issues relevant to the homeless community. On her campus, Colleen is the Political Affairs chair for Voices for Choices, GW’s reproductive justice advocacy organization, and is a member of the Feminist Student Union.

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