by James M. Nelson ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 18, 2020
An illuminating portrait of today’s housing crisis.
Awards & Accolades
A banker explains the rising inequality in the housing industry.
With nearly 40 years of experience in banking and as a member of the National Association of Realtors, Nelson has witnessed a frightening transformation in the housing industry. Despite the sacrifices he made for his kids, like many grandparents across the country, he sees his grandchildren “working harder than I did at their ages” and spending over half of their combined family incomes on housing. Central to America’s crisis (including a massive increase in homelessness) is that affordable and “low-income housing is simply vanishing from the marketplace” while apartments and condos at the other end of the spectrum are oversupplied. Moreover, racial discrimination has historically plagued housing, perhaps more than any single industry. The author fears that given the industry’s reliance on models generated by artificial intelligence, “discrimination will, over time, become the norm within the model itself,” as computers are fed data reflecting America’s systemic racial inequities. As reflected in the book’s subtitle, the author blames much of the current system on AI–driven technology. AI platforms treat humans as mere statistical data and allow for the widespread dispersal of tenants’ private information to a myriad of commercial entities. This makes it even more difficult for tenants with a history of missed rent payments to find affordable housing. The consolidation of property owners, property managers, and builders has also had a negative impact, leaving tenants and homeowners with fewer alternatives. Many property management companies have consistent “F” ratings from the Better Business Bureau and have defended themselves in hundreds of civil cases, but because they dominate a limited market, their tenants have few other places to go. Additionally, property managers have increasingly raised fees, particularly related to evictions, which disproportionately impact those who need help the most.
Though he paints a grim picture of a complex subject, Nelson’s righteous anger makes this book a must-read for not only those in the real estate and banking industries, but also for anyone who seeks to understand why, in the words of activist Jimmy McMillan, “Rent Is Too Damn High.” The author combines the indignation and passion of an activist with the technical knowledge of a seasoned banker. Rather than overwhelming readers, page after page of graphs, charts, and data create a damning case against the status quo. The volume also does a fine job of placing today’s housing industrial complex within a historical context. In addition to paying careful attention to the history of racial discrimination in housing, the work also looks to the past for solutions. Like many bankers of the 1920s, today’s property managers and lenders have not “broken any rules,” largely because there are no regulations to honestly hold them accountable. Just like bank customers of the ’30s needed systemwide financial reforms and regulations, today’s tenants and homeowners require empowered government agencies to stave off the worst abuses that plague the housing industry. But this will require difficult ideological and political shifts that prioritize “human rights before property rights.” Spreading public awareness of deep-seated problems in an industry that often hides its abuses in AI–generated models and binders of paperwork is a crucial prerequisite to that uphill political battle. This exposé is an admirable first step toward that goal.An illuminating portrait of today’s housing crisis. (notes, about the author, acknowledgments)
Pub Date: May 18, 2020
Page Count: 352
Publisher: BRC Publishing House
Review Posted Online: May 27, 2020
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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by Matthew Desmond ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 21, 2023
A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.
A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.
“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.
Pub Date: March 21, 2023
Page Count: 288
Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023
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by Ta-Nehisi Coates ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 8, 2015
This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2015
New York Times Bestseller
National Book Award Winner
Pulitzer Prize Finalist
The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.
Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”
Pub Date: July 8, 2015
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015
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