Inside a World Where the Struggle to Find Affordable Housing is Real

Friday, July 26, 2019, 7:45 am
By: 
Amalia Medina

Matthew Desmond, author of  “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” will visit Hannah Community Center at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 25 for a community discussion about his experiences writing the book. (Photo courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation)

Onlookers cheered as Kristin Shelley, the director of the East Lansing Public Library and a member of the One Book One Community committee, lifted the box and revealed the book selected for this year’s One Book One Community.

One Book One Community is an annual event in which MSU and East Lansing join together to read and discuss a book. This year’s selection is “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The book follows the events and experiences that the author, Matthew Desmond, witnessed while he lived among eight Milwaukee families dealing with eviction and struggling to maintain permanent housing in 2008 and 2009.

A committee comprised of MSU and City of East Lansing representatives annually chooses the One Book One Community book. Usually, the community contributes by recommending certain books, but this year the community had a much larger role.

After narrowing the options to three books, the committee was unable to choose the winner, so they created an online survey for the public to decide. The options were: “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America” and “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” which won by a large margin.

“We thought [the survey] would be really fun,” Shelley said. “The community always sends us books throughout the year, so this year we had three really good books on three very different topics. We couldn’t decide on which one, so we thought let’s have the community help us decide.”

Along with choosing the book, the committee organizes events to discuss the book. The author will visit Hannah Community Center at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 25 for a community discussion about his experiences writing the book. Shelley is looking forward to Desmond’s visit because of his passion on the subject.

“I did a podcast with him, and it was so easy to talk to him,” Shelley said. “He definitely is passionate about this subject and about housing inequalities in our country, so he’ll be a great speaker.”

The following morning, Desmond will present to the incoming MSU freshmen at 9 a.m. at the Breslin Center. Throughout the school year, many departments and classes at MSU will be incorporating “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” So, each student received a copy of the eBook to read before attending in the fall. Unlike other One Book One Community programs across the country, East Lansing’s incorporates the university, which Shelley thinks is a main part of its success.

“What’s so wonderful about this event is that it really involves the community and Michigan State University,” Shelley said. “It is a true collaboration, and that’s what makes it work.”

Topic of conversation that often gets overlooked

Along with the talks by Desmond, two movies will be shown at the library. “The Public,” a film about members of Cincinnati’s homeless community seeking shelter in the public library in the cold, will be shown Sep. 5. “Class Divide,” a documentary about class divisions of New York City neighborhoods, will be shown Sep. 26, and a panel will be held after viewing to discuss the film.

Shelley thinks that the subject matter of this year’s book is often overlooked and not spoken about, so it is important to bring to light, especially in our community.

“[East Lansing] doesn’t have huge eviction numbers, or huge poverty numbers,” Shelley said, “but we’re very in-tune to the rest of the country and what’s going on, and I think that it’s definitely appropriate for this community, and especially young people to talk about the inequities of our country.”

For Shelley, reading “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” helped her realize some of the privileges she has.

“I have that privilege of knowing that I have a house, so it struck me that many people do not have that privilege, and how it affects everything,” Shelley said. “It affects their jobs, their health, schools. That’s what it’s kind of brought to the forefront for me, just how many different aspects of life it affects.”

Shelley hopes that One Book One Community extends further than reading a book. She hopes that this year’s book selection can make an impact on the community.

“I hope that it stimulates the community to talk about the themes in the book that we choose, specifically this year homelessness and housing inequities,” Shelley said, “and I hope it brings the community together, and we can even think about ways that we can help and be better about housing situations in East Lansing and the Greater East Lansing area.”

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