by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 13

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Beaker was furious when he discovered that Larraine had moved into his home. She cannot split the rent while paying Eagle to store her belongings, and her food stamps were cut off so she relies on Beaker to share his food from Meals on Wheels. However, she covers cable and phone bills.

Eagle Storage requires $375 for the move-in, move-out, and first month’s storage fees. This is more than half of Larraine’s SSI check. Furthermore, she cannot see her belongings because Eagle’s warehouse is a bonded storage facility. She is advised to find an apartment soon so she can avoid paying for more than one month, but it will take her several months to save.

In the meantime, Larraine tries to hide from Office Susie and Lenny. Both of them are important to Tobin and to his tenants. Office Susie’s opinion is influential, and she can not only convince Tobin to evict someone, but also confront him if he is overcharging or failing to make necessary repairs. Lenny is a skilled mediator. He is a redneck, like many of Tobin’s tenants, but he also defends Tobin’s interests—and his own—when tenants become critical. What most people do not know, however, is that Tobin gives Lenny a $100 bonus for every $50,000 he collects every month, and $100 for every $2,000 after that.

Lenny also interfaces with Roger, the inspector from the Department of Neighborhood Services. Roger regularly investigates the trailer park conditions and almost always finds code violations. Lenny accompanies him, explaining why various problems have not or cannot be fixed—the overflowing dumpsters, the raccoons and possums, the broken windows. Lenny advocates for Tobin, and Roger is more lenient—though he also knows that reporting every code violation is likely not in the best interest of the tenants.

After Bieck Management takes over the park, Office Susie and Lenny are fired. Even tenants who hate them are terrified, wondering whether the new property manager will honor handshake agreements or be stricter about evictions. Lenny is replaced by an ignorant, condescending twenty-three-year-old University of Wisconsin graduate.

Bieck Management’s new maintenance man, who has worked on mobile homes for seven years, quit after one week because “ninety-nine percent of the houses in here are just too far gone.” However, Tobin learned to turn a major profit even on the worst trailers. He is especially adept at turning a completely destroyed trailer into something profitable within days and for little money.

  • One of the worst units was E-24, which was completely trashed by an evicted tenant and his girlfriend. The mess was “pathological,” bad enough to be smelled ten feet from the trailer. Tobin paid an older tenant, Mrs. Mytes, $20 to scour the entire home. It took her five hours. He also had Rufus, the junk collector, pull out the appliances. Tobin did not pay him, but Rufus could sell what he removed. Tobin advertised the Handyman Special and two months of free rent to make up for the smell of cat urine, smoke, grime, and broken windows. Soon, a couple signed on and, after two months, began paying Tobin $500 in lot rent.

Tobin’s willingness to exploit his needier tenants for free or cheap labor is a point of contention, even before Alderman Witkowski ordered him to hire outside maintenance. Troy, an unemployed motorcycle mechanic, was paid nothing after spending eight hours helping to clean up the sewage spill that attracted media attention. Tobin owns the park outright and after considering expenses and unpaid rent, brings in approximately $447,000 per year—half of Alderman Witkowski’s estimation of $900,000, but he belongs to the top one percent of income earners, while the majority of his tenants live below the bottom ten percent.

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Chapter 12


Chapter 14