Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City Characters

Matthew Desmond


Matthew Desmond

Desmond was born and raised in Arizona, the son of a preacher and a working mother. His family was lower-middle class, and his father hammered into him the idea that, if he was going to escape their financial circumstances, he would have to graduate from college. Desmond originally thought he'd become a lawyer, but then fell in love with sociology. While away at college, his parents lost their house, and Desmond began to think critically about the relationship between poverty and the American housing market. He enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Wisconsin Madison and began conducting field research in May 2008. He moved into the College Mobile Home Park, where he met Tobin, Scott, Larraine, Pam, and Ned. He also became friends with a security guard named Woo, who offered to split the rent with him on an apartment in North Side. When Pam and the others were all evicted, Desmond took Woo up on his offer. His new landlord was Sherrena. It was through her that he met Arleen, Lamar, Doreen, Patrice, Crystal, and the other tenants. For the next year, he shadows Sherrena and records the private lives of his research subjects.

Arleen, Jori, and Jafaris Belle

Arleen Belle is the first tenant introduced in Evicted. When we meet her, she's being evicted from an apartment in Milwaukee's South Side. From there, she moves into a homeless shelter called the Lodge and rents a series of dud places before moving into a building owned by Sherrena in South Side. Her welfare check just barely covers her $550/mo rent, and the rest of this check is eaten up by utilities, which aren't included. She quickly falls behind, and Sherrena is forced to take Arleen to eviction court. Arleen doesn't have a lawyer to act on her behalf, and she only says a few words in her defense. She's evicted, but manages to sublet from Sherrena's new tenant, Crystal, a young and devout Christian with learning disabilities and a slew of diagnosed psychological disorders, which make her unpredictable and violent. She and Arleen fight a lot, and Crystal (allegedly) calls Child Protective Services. Eventually, because Arleen is unable to find safe, suitable housing, Jori has to go live with Larry and Jafaris is taken to live with Arleen's sister.

Sherrena and Quentin Tarver

Sherrena was a schoolteacher when Quentin pulled her over for a traffic stop. Four years later, the two were still going strong, but Sherrena was unhappy at work and decided to make a change. She started a daycare, which was shut down, then turned to real estate, snapping up cheap properties in poor neighborhoods where rent was unfairly high. She quickly made a profit. This led her husband to quit his job as a police officer to become her property manager. By the time Desmond moves in, Sherrena already owns over a dozen properties; but she's ambitious, and she wants more out of her business. She begins offering other professional services to her tenants, helping them, for instance, improve their credit scores (for a reasonable fee, of course). Early on in the book, she hobnobs at a gathering of Milwaukee's landlords, hoping to manage their properties in Milwaukee's South Side. Sherrena's tenants include Lamar, Arleen, Doreen, Patrice, and Crystal. Of these, every single one of them is evicted.

Doreen, Patrice, and Natasha Hinkston

Doreen Hinkston rents the bottom half of the duplex across the street from Lamar's apartment. She lives there with her children, Patrice, Natasha, C.J., and Ruby, and grandchildren Mikey, Jada, and Kayla. Her landlord is Sherrena, who has little to no qualms with so many people living in a small apartment like that. Briefly, Patrice and her children lived in the upstairs unit, but when they were evicted, they moved back in with Doreen. The Hinkstons are a family that likes to pull big pranks on each other. For instance, smearing mayonnaise and ketchup on someone's sleeping face on the eve of their birthday. Natasha, the second oldest, gets pregnant too young, and resources become even thinner for the family. Sherrena evicts Doreen, but Doreen's social worker Tabatha convinces Sherrena to offer Doreen a stipulation agreement. For $400 the following month and $50 for three months after that, the eviction would be cleared and Doreen would get to stay. She did, despite the fact that it...

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