Kicked to the Curb: How Eviction Can Make Poverty’s Impacts Even Worse

Lily Casura, MSW
9 min readSep 10, 2018
Danish artist Erik Henningsen’s painting, “Eviction.” (1892). Collection of the National Gallery of Denmark.

Matthew Desmond won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for “Evicted,” his devastating and densely researched narrative of those who profit from — and those whose lives are indelibly affected by — the business of forcefully removing residents from their homes for non-payment of rent, among other infractions. As Desmond, a professor of sociology now at Princeton University, explains, not all evictions even pass through the court system. Many are handled informally, as landlords tell tenants they’ve had enough and it’s time to go. Formal evictions create a paper trail, however, and on the research side give us a sense of how frequently this paperwork is filed, allowing us to compare parts of the country against one another.

Evictions can traumatize families, causing their situations to go from bad to worse across many indicators, from social and emotional health to becoming the last stage on a path to family homelessness. An eviction can prevent families from benefiting from public housing, and affect their credit rating for years, making future renting situations difficult — even if the eviction were for other reasons than falling behind in rent. The impacts can be so stressful that even years later, “families who experienced forced removal from housing report significantly higher levels of material hardship and depressive symptoms,” according to Desmond, by now the nation’s leading eviction expert.

Unlike much other data about individuals and families, such as that collected by the every-ten-years U.S. Census and estimated yearly or every five years by the American Community Survey, eviction data has historically been hard to come by, because it’s held privately not publicly — and has to be laboriously collected at individual courthouses. Consequently, while there may have been businesses collecting this data for commercial purposes, very little of it was making its way to the public — except occasionally via advocacy groups in some parts of the country who were assembling their own versions of this data, including informal evictions, by reaching out to clients who were affected.

Desmond did the bulk of his eviction research in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area — and because of the dearth of comparable material said he was unclear at the time whether Milwaukee was any…

Lily Casura, MSW

Focused on using data as a tool in research & policy decisions. IWMF grantee. NASW-TX and Tableau Public award winner. UTSA, Harvard honors grad. Ph.D. student.