The Violence of Eviction

Of all the ways market logic has colonized our thinking, the way it has distorted our understanding of the housing market has to be one of the most dangerous. The notion that housing is naturally like any other market has not only informed the way we think about the houses we rent and the mortgages we can take, it’s led us to believe that the city itself wields a kind of economic instrumentalism in how it sorts those who inhabit it. People naturally end up where they are most productive and useful, and any housing problems will be both quickly and smoothly rectified by the market.

This is a lie. Markets are not natural but created, and this is especially true of housing. It takes the violent disruption of expulsion for this to become clear. Two new books dive deep into housing expulsion to illuminate the social creation of these markets.

In Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond does more than paint a haunting picture of the poverty and instability created by housing insecurity. He tears past market ideology to show the power of landlords and the way they decide who the city will work for and how. And in Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud, financial writer David Dayen goes beyond documenting the systemic fraud perpetrated by Wall Street. He shows how ordinary people were able to blow the lid off the mortgage machine and document the lack of evidence for finance’s claims they owned the debts that they claimed to own. Those claims, in turn, forced the government to cover up the fraud in order to preserve the myth of the market.

By listening to the stories of the foreclosed and the evicted, those most vulnerable to the violence of the housing market, we can learn how housing really works—how it fails us as a society, and ultimately, how we can do better.

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