Eviction Lab Misses the Mark

Authors: Terra Graziani*, University of California Los Angeles, Daniela Aiello*, University of Georgia
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: Eviction, Housing, Research ethics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Maryland C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

There is perhaps no more influential and popular book on poverty and housing at the moment than Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted. The book provides narrative accounts of Desmond’s time following very poor tenants and their landlords through the conditions that lead to, and follow after, evictions in a mobile home park and a poor urban neighborhood in Milwaukee. The book also integrates Desmond’s quantitative analysis of Milwaukee court records of evictions that he collected and other social scientific research to give the stories context, policy analysis, and policy recommendations.

In his research, Desmond expressed frustration at the lack of data on evictions, and set about trying to correct it. In May 2018, Desmond released the first national eviction database through his Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Its aim is to help users “discover new facts about how eviction is shaping your community, raising awareness and working toward new solutions.” The project, which allows online users to easily view eviction trends in their neighborhoods and state, has been hailed as “a gift” for housing activists, and received widespread praise from academics, policymakers, and journalists alike.

As housing activists and academics who conduct research on issues of housing and displacement, and who are involved in multiple housing movements across the United States and Canada, we have encountered major problems with Eviction Lab’s practices of big data production, Desmond’s mode of public engagement, and the analysis and solutions offered in Evicted.

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