Detroit Today Hosts Robust Conversation on Housing Insecurity in Final Book Club Event

Detroit Today is concluding its summer community read of Matthew Desmond’s book ”Evicted”, a Pulitzer Prize winning look at poverty and housing insecurity. Host Stephen Henderson hosts two panel discussions; one with landlords and one with people who have seen or lived eviction first hand.

The Landlord

Throughout the summer and at each of our Detroit Today summer book club events, we’ve been struck not only by the role of tenants in the conversation about housing insecurity, but of landlords. The landlords who own property and rent to poo people. The ones who have to keep up their properties and provide decent houses for their tenants. And the ones who, when people fall behind on their rent, may find themselves in the role of the evictor putting people, and their belongings, into the street.

Just like housing insecurity is a complicated issue for tenants, so it is for landlords. The harsh caricature of the uncaring overseer, tossing people and their families out of housing, just doesn’t explain the nuance of circumstance and emotion that attends evictions from the landlord’s side.

There’s nothing worse than the sound of crashing dishes in the bottom of a trash bag as you’re putting someone out,” says Tim Vanneste, a landlord based in Warren.

Vanneste says he often makes personal connections with the families who rent his units, and when that relationship falls apart and loses a foundation of trust it can be devastating to tell someone, particularly with children, that they must leave. He says many of these families have nowhere to go, and that’s a grim reality he considers while trying to work out a payment plan with tenants. 

Making decisions behind a computer is far different than when you’re facing people every day making that human connection” says Meghann Vanneste, Tim’s daughter. Meghann helps her father with his business, but also works for a large-scale management company, which she says is much more impersonal for tenants.

I want to strengthen my community,” says Andre Watson, a landlord with properties in Detroit. Watson says he feels driven to use his background in finance to help his tenants learn about money management and investment. ”I get caught up in a purpose of empowering my tenants.”  

Watson and the Vannestes all see opportunities for betterment of systems that keep people in a cycle of poverty, and landlords in a cycle of evictions.

The primary thing we need to do is invest in people, particularly in education,” says Tim.

The Tenant

There’s a theme that emerges vividly in the book “Evicted”, through the story of Arlene, one of the women who’s profiled by Desmond.

She has two adolescent boys who, not surprisingly, sometimes cause mischief. But because she has the boys, Arlene has a hard time finding landlords who’ll rent to her. Kids, according to the landlords’ logic, mean trouble. And trouble can mean the police. And police could mean exposure of the poor living conditions provided by the landlords.

It’s just not worth the risk.

So people like Arlene sometimes lie about having kids, or how many they have. And ultimately, they wind up losing their homes.

It’s a horrifying cycle, and it takes a terrible toll on young minds.

According to researchers at the University of Michigan, our state has the sixth highest population of homeless children. Which means there are a lot of families here like Arlene’s, that can’t maintain a secure, reliable living situation for their families.

You could go to school one day and literally not know you’re moving that day,” says Rachael Allen, who grew up in Detroit and faced chronic housing insecurity as a child. ”What eviction unconsciously teaches you is you are not worthy of the same kind of home as everyone else.”

Allen talks about recently buying a home in the suburbs and the emotional roller coaster of that experience.

What should have been a joyous occasion brought up every single anxiety and fear [of eviction] as a kid,” she says. “What I discovered is this was an unresolved trauma for me.”

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

Image credit: Jake Neher/WDET

Filed Under: #BookClub
About the Author

Detroit Today

Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.

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