by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 20

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Nobody Wants the North Side

Crystal has been staying at the Lodge since late February. Sherrena evicted her, citing both “substantial disturbances with upper and lower tenants (with police involvement)” and “unauthorized subleasing to an evicted tenant.” Crystal is confused, since Sherrena knew that Arleen was living with her.

Crystal hates the food at the Lodge and hates the maintenance men who sometimes proposition residents for sex in exchange for fresh sheets, snacks, and shampoo. She likes her room, though, and the Lodge residents—especially Vanetta, who is twenty years old but seems much wiser than Crystal. Vanetta has three children and is awaiting a sentencing hearing after helping to rob two women at gunpoint outside of a Blockbuster store. The crime occurred out of desperation; Vanetta’s hours were severely cut back at work, and shortly after being told that the utilities company would be disconnecting her electricity, she was evicted. She feared that Child Protective Services would take her children away, so she was willing to do anything to find extra money.

Crystal and Vanetta decide to become roommates and dream of living in the Hispanic South Side. However, they struggle to find a suitable apartment and a landlord who will accept them. They put down a deposit at Affordable Rentals, which owns over three-hundred units and manages nearly five-hundred more in the low-income rental market. They find the perfect home for $445. However, Affordable Rentals does not approve applicants with recent evictions or criminal backgrounds.

Vanetta considers looking for apartments priced higher than $550, but she questions whether or not Crystal can manage her money responsibly. Crystal tends to waste money on fast food, the casino, and the offering basket at her church. Crystal reasons that, at church, giving away her money is akin to “sowing seeds” so that God will give her a house, a “financial breakthrough,” and “healing from stuff.” However, Vanetta knows that every “seed” that Crystal sows means that they will have less for their new household.

Landlords continue to reject Crystal and Vanetta, sometimes simply because they are black. After unsuccessfully applying to over fifty apartments, they begrudgingly expand their search to include the inner city. Many poor black people are unable to leave the ghetto because of prejudicial landlords and social programs that refuse services to tenants with evictions and convictions. Given that black men face high rates of incarceration and black women face high rates of eviction, many poor black families have few alternatives to dangerous neighborhoods.

Crystal is suddenly evicted from the Lodge after blowing up at a maintenance worker. She frantically tries to find someone to take her in, but no one will help. She finally calls her minister, who arranges for an older couple from the congregation to let Crystal stay with them for the night. However, the next night they turn her away. She suspects that they expected her to tip them, but she has no money after loaning her cousin $400 for rent. Vanetta was outraged when she heard about that.

Crystal cannot help trying to rescue people. Once, she and Vanetta were eating in a McDonald’s restaurant and a young boy in dirty clothes walked inside. The side of his face was swollen, and his hair was disheveled. Crystal and Vanetta combined their money to buy him a meal. When he left, Crystal said that she wished she had a house so that she could take him in.

Now, Crystal walks around in the rain with nowhere to go. It is almost 11:00 p.m., but she begins calling everyone she knows. No one will help.

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Chapter 19


Chapter 21