by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 4

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A Beautiful Collection

Tobin Charney, his wife, and his lawyer appear before the Common Council to learn the fate of College Mobile Park. Tobin’s lawyer submitted an addendum late last night, outlining the ten steps that Tobin promises to take in order to improve the park. He promises not to punish the tenants who criticized him on the news. His lawyer explains to the Council that Tobin’s tenants are “vulnerable; elderly, disabled, children,” and that Tobin collaborated with Alderman Witkowski on the agreement.

The Common Council is displeased with the last-minute deal. Alderman Witkowski, though chiding Tobin for allowing a good trailer park to deteriorate, agrees that it would be unfortunate to close the park because “people with limited means and limited abilities” would be forced to move out. He is satisfied with their ten-point agreement.

Tobin’s license is renewed on the condition that he take “drastic steps” to improve his park. He begins by evicting all of the “troublemakers,” for the “most effective way to assert, or reassert, ownership of land was to force people from it.” Lenny helps with the evictions, searching for all of the twenty-eight-day notices that allow landlords to evict tenants for no reason. Tobin instructs Lenny to use five-day notices because his troublesome tenants owe him “back rent.” He asks if rent payments have slowed down, but Lenny says that they have not—he just finished his spreadsheet and everything looks fine. Office Susie agrees.

One troublesome tenant is Pam Reinke, who is seven months pregnant. Tobin had sympathized with Pam, but now he is “cleaning house” and wants her and her boyfriend, Ned Kroll, to leave. Pam tries to change Tobin’s mind by giving him her $1,200 stimulus check from President Barack Obama’s Economic Stimulus Act. However, Pam owes Tobin approximately $3,000. Tobin takes Pam’s stimulus check but evicts her anyway.


Pam and Ned moved to Milwaukee from Green Bay two years ago and saw an advertisement that Tobin had placed in the local paper. Tobin and Lenny offered them the “Handyman Special,” which means that they own the mobile home itself but pay rent on the lot. Tobin offers this deal regularly; he charges tenants for the lot, and people who own their trailers pay for upkeep.

Technically, a tenant who owns a mobile home can move the trailer. However, the cost of towing and setting up the trailer in a new spot was too high. Evicted tenants usually would leave their trailers behind, and Tobin would reclaim them as “abandoned property” so he could offer the Handyman Special to a new tenant. Of Tobin’s 131 trailers, 111 are currently owner-occupied, predominantly because tenants like to think that they own their own homes. Affordable housing is becoming scarcer in cities like Milwaukee, so it is always easy to find new tenants.

Pam and Ned blame each other for the eviction. Ned is ten years older than Pam. The new baby will be their fifth daughter, and Ned wants a son. Ned counts Pam’s two black daughters—Bliss and Sandra—as though they were his own. Bliss and Sandra are from Pam’s previous relationship with a violent drug dealer. Pam began dating their father when she was nineteen and managed to resist drug addiction until after she found a way to leave him. She found work as a certified nursing assistant and was doing well until she learned that her brother died from a heroin overdose. She began smoking crack in order to “keep her from drowning.” That is when she met Ned.

Pam and Ned sold crack, but were soon caught. Ned had a previous drug charge, so he had a longer prison sentence. Pam, who had no previous felonies, spent ten months in jail and received four years of probation. She tried to stay sober after being released, but was “hooked right back on.” She became pregnant after reconnecting with Ned, whose daughter Laura from a previous relationship soon came to live with them. Ned abandoned Pam once when she was still pregnant. She dropped Laura back with her mother, unable to care for the children.


Pam and Ned sell all of their valuables after learning about their impending eviction. Pam convinces two other tenants, Scott and Teddy, to take them in for a while. Annoyed, Tobin evicts Scott and Teddy, too. He charges them for Pam and Ned’s rental debt because “evictions could be contagious that way.”

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Chapter 3


Chapter 5