by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 11

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The ‘Hood is Good

Sherrena and Quentin return after eight days in Jamaica. They always plan their vacations so that they will be back before the first of the month, when they deliver eviction notices and collect rent. Many of their poor tenants do not have bank accounts, so they often collect rent in person.

Sherrena returns a voicemail left by a social worker named Tabatha, who called about plumbing issues in the Hinkstons’ home. Sherrena blames the Hinkstons for neglecting the unit. Tabatha tells Sherrena that Doreen, who is still withholding rent, is looking for another apartment. Sherrena, furious, has Quentin deliver an eviction notice. Doreen tries to pay her the rent owed, but Sherrena will not accept it. Doreen can only attend her court hearing and hope that Sherrena will change her mind.

On January 1, Sherrena and Quentin leave to collect rent. They see Ricky One Leg, who is waiting for UPS to deliver a computer for his daughter. Sherrena privately tells Quentin that if Ricky has that kind of money, she will raise his rent. Later, they stop at a rooming-house where almost everyone is high. However, Quentin still walks away with a wad of cash for Sherrena. They laughingly observe that the “crackheads” always pay rent.

At around 9:00 p.m., they visit a prospective tenant. Ladona, who has an eight-year-old son, is interested in a house that Sherrena bought before going on vacation. Ladona has a housing voucher and wants to leave her current unit because of gun violence on her street. Sherrena and Quentin do not often accept housing assistance because they do not want to deal with “picky inspectors,” but Sherrena’s new property is very nice and easier to maintain. Furthermore, Ladona’s rent is guaranteed.

  • Tenants with housing assistance only pay 30% of their income on rent, regardless of what the landlord charges. The rest of the payment is covered by taxpayers. For landlords like Sherrena, accepting rent assistance can be lucrative because, depending on the neighborhood, one can charge above market rate.
  • In major cities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development establishes a Fair Market Rent (FMR) that amounts to the most a landlord can charge someone with a housing voucher. However, the FMR is calculated by considering both wealthy and impoverished areas. If a landlord owns property in a disadvantaged neighborhood, she can charge a higher rent because the FMR reflects affluent communities as well. While tenants with housing vouchers are not affected, taxpayers usually pay an additional $3.6 million every year on higher rents in Milwaukee—enough to provide 588 more families with housing assistance.

Sherrena’s new property is a two-story, late colonial-style house painted black and white. It is in very good shape and only cost her $16,900. She, among other real estate investors with financial means, profited heavily from the foreclosures that resulted from the recession. Some foreclosed properties were listed at $30,000 below their assessed value, and Sherrena acquires a new property almost every month. If she cannot buy a property outright, she will apply for a mortgage. If she cannot qualify for a mortgage, she can usually convince someone from a rich, white neighborhood to give her a high-interest loan that she pays off within six months.

Given that home values are very low in poor, black neighborhoods, landlords have an easy time turning a profit: they acquire property for little money, rent it for nearly the same price that tenants pay in affluent white neighborhoods, and skimp on repairs. Owning and renting property in the poorest neighborhoods can bring in reliable income every month. As Sherrena says, “The ‘hood is good.”


On January 27, Doreen rides the bus to the courthouse for her eviction hearing. She feels uncomfortable in her sneakers, partly because her foot is throbbing after the back door fell on it last night. She distracts herself by thinking about Natasha’s new baby, who will be born in May. They desperately need a bigger home now, but Sherrena gave Doreen an open eviction on CCAP so moving will be very difficult.

What’s worse, Natasha has applied for W-2, which might lower Doreen’s benefits. If Natasha stays to help pay the family’s bills, they will be fine. However, her boyfriend, Malik, has been asking her to move into his mother’s home. Doreen suspects that Natasha is strongly considering the offer.

When Sherrena and Doreen meet outside Room 400, Sherrena is not in a good mood. The city withdrew nearly $20,000 in water bills and taxes from her bank account, so now she is broke until February 1. Furthermore, she is experimenting with a rent-to-own venture that involves coaching—for a fee—stable tenants to rapidly improve their credit scores and then selling them the unit they are renting from her. One of these tenants, Chelsea, called to announce that she quit her temporary job, so she will likely be unable to purchase her home from Sherrena.

Doreen explains that she was not intending to scam Sherrena but was instead trying to find a better housing arrangement because of Natasha’s new baby. However, Doreen does not know that her social worker, Tabatha, already told Sherrena all of this in an effort to convince her to reconsider the eviction. Sherrena offers Doreen a stipulation that will effectively prevent her from saving for their move: she will dismiss the eviction if Doreen pays an extra $400 next month and an extra $50 for three months after that. Doreen agrees.

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Chapter 10


Chapter 12