What happens when one’s home is taken away? That’s a question that far too many people have had to ask themselves when faced with eviction, and one that looms in “Evicted,” a new exhibition at Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum.
“We now know from looking at 80 million eviction records from across the country that in 2016, 2.3 million people were touched by eviction,” says sociologist Matthew Desmond, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City serves as the prompt for the exhibition by the same title. “Evicted” tells the stories of those who have returned home to find all of their personal belongings stacked curbside—or, worse still, shrink-wrapped and carted away to a bonded storage warehouse. It shows the courtrooms where landlords appear with their lawyers, and former tenants often don’t show up, knowing that their failure to pay rent has decided their cases whether they appear or not. The exhibition maps eviction data, proving it to be not just a local or regional problem, but a nationwide epidemic that, as Desmond explains, is as much a cause of poverty as it is a result of it. “This is a problem that is affecting the streets of communities all across the country,” he says. “Through our work at the Eviction Lab, a Princeton University–based team that researches evictions in America], we’ve been able to see this, and take a problem that’s been invisible and bring it to light, and literally put it on the map.”
The map to which Desmond refers covers the first wall of the exhibition with moving boxes scaled according to the number of evictions per state, painting a tangible picture of just how widespread eviction has become in America. “You can see the weight of this problem at a national level that we were never able to before,” Desmond says. “For me, housing should be a right for everyone who lives in this country. It should be part of what it means to be an American, because without it, everything else falls apart.”
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