Housing Vouchers Would Change the Face of Poverty - Vice
VICE: What should every renter understand about their rights?
Matthew Desmond: Rights vary from city to city, so getting to know your rights is a matter of knowing where you live, as they can actually be very fair. For example, renters do have the right to withhold rent from their landlords if certain conditions are not met. But rights cost money, so if you’re a renter who is paying 75 percent, 80 percent of your income on housing costs, then you’re going to need a favor from your landlord one of these days. And entering into that kind of relationship with your landlord can put you in a pickle. You see in the book how folks are struggling with the question of “should I talk to her or not,” because while landlords can’t legally retaliate, they can claim more grounds for eviction when their tenants eventually fall behind.
How about the issue of domestic abuse, mainly the fact that residents are less likely to call the police because they realize that their homes could be forfeit?This is something that should give us great pause when we think about what an eviction means on somebody’s record. Because there’s no context behind that information. When I showed the Milwaukee Police Department how every four days a landlord gets a letter that’s domestic violence-related, and that over 80 percent of the time they evict the tenant, they were shocked. They changed the law and, what’s more, the ACLU has since used that statistic to get laws changed in Pennsylvania and mount a campaign called “I Am Not a Nuisance” led by a wonderful lawyer named Sandra Park. And several senators read the book and connected with this issue, 29 of whom signed a letter before the election asking HUD to issue broad guidance to put federal law back on the side of domestic violence survival. And HUD did! So we should be troubled by the fact that these laws exist, but I’m happy to report that this is a tangible policy change that the book helped to effect.