by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 10

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Hypes for Hire

Lamar watches the snowfall from inside his apartment on Wright Street. He was nearly evicted over the shoddy paint job in Patrice’s old unit, but Sherrena decided to let him paint the pantry and cover up the spots that were missed the first time. He straps on his prosthetic legs and heads to work, recruiting Mikey, Patrice’s son, for help.

The work is physically taxing for Lamar, and he does not expect that Sherrena will let him stay. He knows that Sherrena and Quentin can find “hypes,” or very cheap laborers, to complete the job for far less money. Sherrena will save more money by hiring hypes and replacing Lamar with another tenant.

A week passes and Lamar hears nothing from Sherrena about his work. It is a Tuesday morning but Lamar’s sons, Luke and Eddy, are staying home from school. Lamar begins making a big breakfast, and soon Buck stops by as though he could smell bacon frying from all the way down the street.

Lamar’s new upstairs neighbor, Kamala, knocks on the door and asks for a cigarette. Lamar, who had previously declared that he would not be helpful to her, graciously offers a cigarette, a dinner invitation, and an electric hot plate before she heads back upstairs to her three young children. Kamala only has a microwave and cannot really cook. Like many landlords, Sherrena and Quentin limit the appliances included in their units. They do not need to fix a stove if there is not one to begin with.

After breakfast, Patrice’s younger brother C.J. stops by and a game of cards begins. Buck, Lamar, and Eddy smoke weed, while Luke stays in his bedroom with his girlfriend. Suddenly, there is a loud knock at the door. It is Colin, a young white preacher from the local church. Lamar is relieved and irritated. The boys laugh and Eddy opens a window in an effort to air out the apartment. Colin has a Bible in one hand and a bag of cookies in the other, and soon everyone is reading Bible passages.


At the end of the month, Quentin stops by the Thirteenth Street duplex and honks for Chris, Trisha’s new boyfriend. He emerges, severely hungover but ready to work. Chris is one of Sherrena’s and Quentin’s cheap laborers, and he is sprucing up a newly-purchased property that they intend to rent to a woman with a housing voucher. The unit will be inspected before anyone with housing assistance moves in, so it must be in excellent shape.

Landlords like Sherrena and Quentin often find unemployed laborers who will perform routine repairs and maintenance for cheap. Many workers are tenants or family members, like Quentin’s alcoholic Uncle Verne. Sherrena also has a group of hypes, or “jackleg crackheads,” on call. Cheap labor can also easily be found on the streets. There are so many jobless inner-city men that they often work as part of an informal, cheap, cash-paid labor force that is dominated by urban landlords.

Quentin drops Chris off at the new property and they exchange the Vice Lords’ handshake. The Vice Lords are an inner-city gang, and Quentin was briefly a member in high school. He was shot twice, though not as a direct result of gang activity. Today, he is usually easy-going. However, if a tenant is particularly threatening or causes serious intentional damage to a unit, he will put on his black hoodie and recruit his “guys” to go sort out the issue.

At the end of the day, Quentin drops by Patrice’s old unit to check on Verne, who has been working for two days to coat the hardwood floors with polyurethane and mask the paint that Lamar’s boys dripped on the trim. Quentin is done negotiating with Lamar, even though Lamar painted the pantry. He and Sherrena do not intend to pay him. They will, however, pay Verne. However, when Verne asks for more money, Quentin casually reminds him that he is expendable.

Downstairs, the Hinkstons overhear Quentin and Verne talking. After the men leave, Patrice and Natasha run upstairs to investigate. It looks much better than it did when Patrice lived there, predominantly because Patrice does not realize that a tenant’s leverage is the strongest before moving in. After that, pressuring a landlord to make improvements is far different. Patrice says that Sherrena “wouldn’t last a day in our house.”

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Chapter 9


Chapter 11