by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 19

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Pam and Ned are still homeless. Ned loses his job, because he missed two days of work while they were moving.

  • Tenants sometimes lose their jobs during evictions because the stress and time required to find new housing leads to missed work, mistakes, or unprofessional behavior. Some people have to move farther away from their workplaces, leading to tardiness or missed days.

Finally, several friends offer to help. Someone agrees to take the three oldest girls, leaving two-year-old Kristin with Pam and Ned. Travis, a man who recently moved out of Tobin’s park, allows them to sleep on his couch. Then, Ned’s friend Dirky gives him an off-the-books job customizing motorcycles.

Travis quickly grows tired of the family living with him. Pam will give birth soon, but they still have no leads on a home. She and Ned worry about having to move to the near South Side. However, landlords continue turning them down because of their children.

  • Landlords generally dislike children, who are often kept inside if they live in a dangerous neighborhood. Cooped-up children tend to become restless and cause damage to units. They also increase water usage and attract unwanted attention to code violations if they test positive for lead poisoning or are taken by Child Protective Services. Landlords have barred families with children for decades and have even evicted tenants for becoming pregnant. Though Congress outlawed housing discrimination against families with children, the practice is still common.

Arleen struggles to find housing because of her children, too. She has applied to or called on eighty-two apartments, but no one will approve her. She is so stressed that she forgot to obtain more Prednisone for Jafaris, who had to be taken to the hospital during a severe asthma attack. She considers moving into her cousin J.P.’s building, even though it seems to be in “the exact middle of the ghetto.”

Meanwhile, Pam resigns herself to living on the Hispanic South Side, though she does not like to have non-white neighbors. Ned says that he can live with Mexicans but not with black people. Pam sometimes hates how racist Ned is, especially when he says racist and cruel things in front of her daughters, whose father is black. Ned and Pam ingratiate themselves to the first landlord they meet, hoping to convince him to approve their application. After the apartment showing, Travis tells them that they must leave. They check into a cheap motel, and Pam goes into labor. Four days after she gives birth, they learn that their application was approved. They may have criminal histories, three evictions, and five daughters, but they receive preferential treatment for being white.

However, Ned gets into a fight with their upstairs neighbors three days later. The landlord gives them a week to find a new home. Ned quickly finds a two-bedroom apartment in a white, working-class neighborhood near Dirky’s garage. He applied by himself, leaving Pam, Bliss, and Sandra off the application. He explains that “people like single dads.” Soon, Ned is given a construction job and Pam begins working as a medical assistant. Ned orders Bliss and Sandra not to let the landlord know that they live with him. He often belittles them for being black, and Pam hopes that they will not be hurt too much by his racism. She sometimes considers abandoning them at a homeless shelter or under the viaduct.

Arleen inquires about a big apartment on Silver Spring Drive and the landlord agrees to show it to her immediately. Jori is thrilled, but Arleen tells him not to get Jafaris’s hopes up. Arleen fills out an application and they leave. On their way home, they stop at the Thirteenth Street apartment so that Arleen can pick up a pair of shoes that she left behind. The boys spot Little, the cat, pawing at the door. Jori picks him up and Jafaris kisses him. Arleen scolds them, though she misses Little, too. However, she is trying to teach her boys not to love things that they cannot have.

Arleen and the boys make one more stop at a two-bedroom apartment. While she fills out an application, Jafaris uses the bathroom. However, the toilet does not flush. Minutes after they leave, the landlord calls Arleen to yell about how rude Jafaris is, declaring that he does not care for children “like that.” Arleen and the boys can stay at the shelter for twenty-nine more days.

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Chapter 18


Chapter 20