Revolution #220, December 19, 2010
Black, Female, and Evicted in America
Every year, millions of people in the USA experience homelessness. Countless others live on the brink of eviction—a paycheck or unemployment check or two away, constantly facing decisions about paying rent or buying groceries, medicine, or clothing for the kids. Unlike housing foreclosures, which are closely tracked and tallied, no national figures are kept on evictions. But it is known that millions of people in this country have been pushed to—and over—the edge in recent years as they struggle to keep a place they can call home and meet one of life's basic necessities.
The most oppressed and vulnerable people under this capitalist system suffer the worst from the horrors of being evicted and losing the roof over their heads. And Black women have been hit with particular ferocity by the waves of evictions.
A recent study focusing on Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, concluded that for young Black people, "eviction can be thought of as the feminine equivalent to incarceration… nearly 60 percent of the 50,538 tenants evicted in Milwaukee County between 2003 and 2007 were female." Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison who wrote the study, analyzed court records and other research material and also lived in two high-poverty neighborhoods in 2008 and 2009.
Desmond found that in the poor majority Black neighborhoods of Milwaukee, 1 in 10 renter-occupied households is evicted every year. And, "The odds of a woman being evicted in black neighborhoods is twice that of men. It's not like that in white neighborhoods. It's quite stunning." The study also pointed out that Black women were evicted at double the rate of white women in similar circumstances.1
Part of the Oppression of Black People
The high eviction rate that Black women face is part of the overall discriminatory housing situation for Black people, which arises from the oppression of African-American people built into this system in the U.S. from its very beginning, as well as decades of conscious policies by the capitalist rulers. In the period after World War 2, massive changes took place in U.S. society, including very importantly in the lives of African-Americans. As the plantation system in the South was breaking down, five million Black people were driven into the cities of the North. Hoping to escape the Jim Crow conditions in the South and drawn by the often unmet promise of good jobs and a better life in the "Promised Land," Black people who arrived in the Northern cities encountered harsh segregation in every sphere—in jobs, education, medical care…and housing. They were forced into and locked into certain areas of Northern cities by government laws and policies that resulted in subsidized housing in the form of inner-city projects in the ghettos, as well as by police repression and racist vigilantes. In contrast, in the same period, the U.S. government subsidized home loans for huge numbers of white people, including better-off workers and middle class people. This was reinforcement of white privilege—by federal government policy.
The 1960s saw a tremendous upsurge of struggle by Black people, including rebellions in the inner cities throughout the U.S. But as tremendous and powerful as this struggle of Black people and the overall upsurge of the ‘60s were, the ruling capitalist-imperialist system was not overthrown. The national oppression of Black people has continued, and in many ways is even more intense today. Black people in this country face the highest levels of racial residential segregation in the world—shunted into neglected neighborhoods lacking decent parks and grocery stores and often with no hospitals at all. And all this is reinforced by racism and hatred, official and unofficial, and by police terror and murder. (For a much more extensive analysis of these developments, go online for the special issue of Revolution titled "The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System, And the Revolution We Need" at revcom.us/a/144/BNQ-en.html.)
One of the towering crimes of U.S. capitalism is the massive incarceration of Black men. In today's America, about 1 in 8 young Black men are in prison or on parole. Factory, warehousing, and other jobs which had previously employed large numbers of Black men in cities have dried up to the point of disappearing, with plants and even entire industries either moving out of the country, shutting down altogether, and in some cases moving to rural areas or "exurbs" far from the city centers. Many of the minimum wage jobs in fast food and other components of the "service economy" are staffed primarily by women. One result of all this is that millions of women are in the position of not only being the sole wage earner in a household, but the only person a landlord will allow to sign a lease. This is a key factor in why Black women are being evicted at such high rates.
As sociologist Matthew Desmond pointed out in an NPR radio interview in February 2010, "[I]n inner city Black communities, women are disproportionately represented in the low rate service sector of the economy. And therefore are able to have income documentation necessary to sign a lease. That income can also come from the form of public assistance check. But low wages and welfare stipends have remained relatively stagnant. Over the last 10 years, well, the cost of housing has increased by historic proportions. So, just a quick example: in 1997, the fair market rent for just one bedroom in Milwaukee, was $466. In 2008, it was $665. The welfare payment in the city hasn't increased at all. It's been $673 the whole time. What we're seeing is that even in high poverty neighborhoods, the average cost of renting is quickly approaching the total income of welfare recipients and low wage workers…
"It's down to a fact that, you know, people like Clarissa [a woman from Milwaukee who is one of the people Desmond profiled in his research] are paying 80 to 90 percent of their income towards landlords. They have no wiggle room. They're one sick child or one accident away from eviction. And we've reached a kind of unreasonable point in inner cities today, where families don't have access to the public housing or rental assistance. And we should bear in mind this is the majority of low income families, not the exception."
Evictions in the Context of the Economic Crisis
And the surge in evictions of households headed by Black women is taking place in the context of the current economic crisis that has put a huge squeeze on the availability of housing for the poor. Robert Greer, a housing developer who specializes in what is called "affordable housing" projects, said in 2009, "Despite a demand for our product that far exceeds the supply, affordable apartment developers are finding it nearly impossible to assemble the necessary capital to move forward with their projects. Putting together deals that make sense is more difficult now than it has ever been, because the program's biggest investors of the past have been sidelined."2
Stop and think about what the housing developer is actually saying. People in the inner cities urgently need housing. But investing in new housing in the inner cities where Black and Latino people are concentrated does not bring a sufficient rate of return, so such housing does not get built. Last August, 30,000 people in East Point, Georgia, near Atlanta, came out to apply for 200 public housing apartment units and 455 vouchers for Section 8 rent assistance. East Point is almost 80% African-American. (A spokeswoman for the local housing authority said that even those few who finally made it through the admissions process "would have to wait years" before they could move in.)
While the capitalist economic crisis has affected the masses of people generally, it has had an especially devastating effect on Black and other oppressed people. Far from the fantasy of a "post-racial" society, for millions and millions of African-Americans in the U.S., the oppression and discrimination they face as a people continue and are getting WORSE under this system.
1. A University of Wisconsin-Madison press release on the study noted, "Desmond's research showed that in neighborhoods in which the majority of residents are black, 18,247 women were evicted in those five years, compared with 9,703 men. In white neighborhoods, 7,941 women and 8,246 men were evicted in the same time period; in Hispanic areas, 3,139 women and 2,205 men were evicted." [back]
2. A report prepared for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in January 2010 found that "From 2001 to 2007 the nation's affordable unassisted rental housing stock decreased by 6.3%, while the high-rent rental housing stock increased 94.3%. This translates into a loss of more than 1.2 million affordable unassisted rental units from 2001 to 2007." [back]
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