The common reading book selection is used each year in EDHE 105/305 courses primarily as a framework for class discussions, projects, and writing assignments that explore social themes and/or issues from the book. EDHE 105/305 instructors use the text (with a focus on those themes and issues) to teach students how to explore their personal reactions, to understand and appreciate both the things that make them different from their peers and the things that they have in common, and to effectively and respectfully voice their own opinions and viewpoints.
Note to teachers: It is recommended that before asking your students to speak publicly or participate in projects where they may have to directly address their own housing background you assign a simple writing or journal prompt asking students to describe what home means to them. Answers from students will hopefully guide you in covering the common read material in a manner that won’t cause anxiety or other possible issues for some students.
CLASS DISCUSSION PROMPTS(adapted from Rachel Hudak’s Evicted Teacher’s Guide and UW-Madison’s Big Read Discussion Questions for Evicted) EDHE 105/305 classrooms provide excellent opportunities for students to practice classroom discussion. Instructors are encouraged to read pages 2-7 of this guide to prepare for these opportunities. Here are several suggestions for discussion prompts:
- What was your experience reading Evicted? Were you surprised by what you learned? Was any particular scene or individual’s story emotionally painful for you to witness?
- In Evicted, author Matthew Desmond takes a narrative approach to an important topic and follows the stories of several real people. Which person’s story were you most drawn to and why?
- The purpose of the UM Creed is “to outline certain established values that each member of the University community should strive to possess” (UM Policy 10000781). Discuss how certain individuals or events in Evicted reflect or do not reflect one of the following aspects of the Creed:
- I believe in respect for the dignity of each person.
- I believe in fairness and civility.
- I believe in personal and professional integrity.
- I believe in good stewardship of our resources.
Core Curriculum: Inclusion – Respect for the Dignity of Each Person
- Ruminating on the reasons for Larraine’s purchase of lobster with food stamps, Desmond reflects that “it was not because her benefits left her with so much but because they left her with so little” (219). Even with austere personal budgets and self-control, Desmond contends that for those at the bottom, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is practically impossible. After learning about the people in Evicted, do you think individuals get stuck in a cycle of poverty due to a “poverty mentality”—they are poor because they throw money away, or—as Desmond suggests—they throw money away because they are poor? Did this chapter challenge or reaffirm your previously held beliefs about people living in poverty?
- How does the process of screening tenants lead to a “geography of advantage and disadvantage” (89)? How can landlords’ decisions impact neighborhood characteristics like schools, crime rates, and levels of civic engagement? How can a criminal background or history of past evictions impact a person’s ability to rent property? Do you think a tenant should have to disclose this information? Why or why not?
- Many people have very codified perceptions of “people who get evicted” and suspect that those people are largely responsible, through bad decision making, for their circumstances. Did you feel this way before reading Evicted? Why or why not? Did your opinions change after reading the book? If so, how?
Core Curriculum: Wellness – Self-care
- Desmond discusses the connection between substandard housing, the high cost of rent, and health issues facing tenants and their families. How do housing conditions contribute to health issues? For example, Larraine sometimes had to choose between paying her rent and filling her pain medication prescriptions (42), and we learn that “[s]uicides attributed to evictions and foreclosures doubled between 2005 and 2010, years when housing costs soared” (298). What are other examples of health-related issues facing tenants in the book? How are children, in particular, at risk (see Notes, 386-7)? How do the landlords respond to these issues?
- Desmond writes, “No one thought the poor more undeserving than the poor themselves” (180). How do you see this attitude reflected in residents of the trailer park? Do you see it reflected in Arleen’s actions?
- What challenges did Scott face while maintaining his sobriety? Do you think the process for Scott to get his nursing license back was reasonable? Why or why not? What relief did Scott receive after obtaining subsidized housing and county-subsidized methadone treatment?
Core Curriculum: Wellness – Financial Management
- Though Sherrena’s and Tobin’s tenants struggle to pay their rent, the landlords both have an estimated net worth of approximately $2 million. Sherrena remarks, “The ’hood is good. There’s a lot of money there” (152). Similarly, Desmond notes of Tobin, "The annual income of the landlord of perhaps the worst trailer park in the fourth-poorest city in America is 30 times that of his tenants working full-time for minimum wage, and 55 times the annual income of his tenants receiving welfare or SSI. There are two freedoms at odds with each other: the freedom to profit from rents and the freedom to live in a safe and affordable home" (308). Do you see these freedoms being affirmed or denied in Evicted? Where is the line between running a profitable business and exploitation? On which side of that line do you see Sherrena and Tobin?
- Why do you think Larraine chose to spend all of her food stamps on expensive food like lobster and king crab? What personal reaction did you have to her decision? Do you agree with Pastor Daryl that Larraine is careless with her money because she is operating under a “poverty mentality” (219)? Why might it be difficult for Larraine to lift herself out of poverty by practicing good behavior or self-control? What options do you believe Larraine has?
- Why do you think 90% of landlords are represented by attorneys in housing courts while 90% of tenants are not? What would you do if you were facing eviction and in need of legal assistance? Do you think attorneys should be provided to low-income tenants at no cost?
Core Curriculum: Relationships/Community
- If you were unexpectedly evicted from your home, what would be the fallout? How would this impact your education, employment, and relationships? How might a sudden change like eviction affect your physical and mental well-being?
- Besides affecting an individual family, what are the consequences of evictions for schools and communities? How can a single eviction destabilize multiple blocks in one neighborhood?
- Do you agree or disagree with Desmond’s views on home when he writes:
- Desmond reflects on his description of the project at the end of the book: “I wanted to try to write a book about poverty that didn’t focus exclusively on poor people or poor places. Poverty was a relationship, I thought, involving poor and rich people alike . . . This sent me searching for a process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process” (317). How does eviction bind rich and poor people together? How does the relationship between rich and poor compare to the relationship between landlord and tenant? What are some ways that tenants and landlords in Evicted benefit and struggle due to their roles? On a larger scale, are there organizations or government programs mentioned in Evicted that enforce or challenge this mutual dependence?
- Did reading Evicted inspire you to want to help others in positions similar to those of the people in the book? If so, how do you think you might get involved?
Budgeting By the Book ProjectInstructors: Put students into groups of 3-4 and read/display Part One of the assignment below to each group. Give students 5-10 minutes to decide how to allocate their monthly income for Part One. Then read/display Part Two of the assignment and give students another 5-10 minutes to discuss how to allocate money in these new scenarios.
Part OneAssume that your group is a family in good health (two parents and two children) with one income that is renting a place to live. The earner in your family makes $55,000 per year, just under the median family income for Mississippi families. Assume that after taxes and other monthly required expenses, your family has $4000 per month to spend on the categories below. Decide as a group how your monthly income should be budgeted and be prepared to explain why. Be sure to consider the following: 1.) It is advised that you should spend no more than 30% of your income on housing, and 2.) Assume that you can find a place to rent for your family that meets this criteria. (You may want to research online what average families spend on groceries, healthcare, etc.) Budget Categories
Part TwoNow imagine that your family is in the same position as Arleen in Evicted. You can’t work for a variety of reasons (no money or access to childcare, no transportation for interviews, etc.) and you are instead having to rely on a state family aid program. You receive a check for $628 per month, and the rent for your apartment is $550. How would you allocate your income if you had a housing voucher or a public housing unit that only required you to pay 30% of your rent costs ($188)?
Post-Activity Class Discussion Prompts
- Ask the groups to share why they made their decisions under each scenario.
- Under the second scenario, ask them how they might handle a situation where there is an issue in the apartment (toilet breaks, heat goes out, etc.) if they are late or behind on their rent. How might this impact their budget in the future?
- How would they plan to handle emergencies if they did not or could not allocate money to this?
- Did this scenario change their perceptions about how much monthly funding most people receive through welfare programs?
- Refer to earlier discussion questions in this chapter for additional questions related to this activity.
Problem-Solving Brainstorming SessionDivide the class into 4–5 groups, providing each group with 5-6 index cards and an envelope.
- Instruct each group to select a social problem or issue that was brought up in the book and then write this on the envelope. Alternatively, you may start with a brainstorming session, list problems, and then have each group select one. Suggestions for issues: affordable housing, racial profiling, abuse of power, legal representation for indigent individuals, economic exploitation by landlords.
- Each group then passes their envelope to the next group.
- As each group receives an envelope, they have a set amount of time to discuss the problem and possible solutions. They write their best solution on an index card, place it in their envelope, and then pass it to the next group. Groups may not look at other solutions from other groups that are in the envelope!
- Continue until each group’s envelope comes back around to the starting point. Have each group read all of the solution suggestions, decide which one they think is the best, and explain why to the class.
In-Class DebateChoose one of the controversial issues or themes described in this guide and write a proposition statement. For example:
- Example #1 – Resolved: “Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country” (300).
- Example #2 – Resolved: “A universal housing voucher program would carve a middle path between the landlord’s desire to make a living and the tenant’s desire, simply, to live” (308).
- Example #3 – Resolved: “Establishing publicly funded legal services for low-income families in housing court would be a cost-effective measure that would prevent homelessness, decrease evictions, and give poor families a fair shake” (303).
- Affirmative constructive speech 6. 5-minute work period
- Negative constructive speech 7. Negative rebuttal
- 5-minute work period 8. Affirmative rebuttal
- Negative rebuttal speech 9. Decision
- Affirmative rebuttal
Investigating People’s Stories (individual or group activity)Choose an individual from the book. Suggestions:
- Arleen Bell
- Doreen Hinkston
- Crystal Mayberry
- Lamar Richards
- Larraine Jenkins
- Scott Bunker
- What is this person’s story?
- Describe his or her character traits. Do you admire these traits? Why or why not?
- List a memorable quote from this person. Why did you choose this particular quote?
- How does he/she interact with the landlord?
- Does this individual evolve and develop throughout the book? If so, how?
GROUP/INDIVIDUAL PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS
Just the Facts!Early in the semester, groups can give short presentations on the facts related to various topics in the book (some examples are listed below). The presentations can be limited to a particular city or state instead of the whole country.
- Public or subsidized housing
- Landlord vs. tenant rights
- Cycle of poverty
- Racism and eviction
- Drugs and housing
- Housing legislation
Research Project/PresentationNote to instructor: Consider encouraging your students to utilize the library resources found at the UM Libraries Common Reading Research Guide and other resources listed on pages 6-7 of this guide. Divide the class into small groups, assigning one of the non-profit organizations listed (or others selected by the groups with your approval). Each group member will be assigned a particular role: researcher, illustrator, writer, organizer, presenter, etc. Have students use the suggested resources plus any others they find in order to prepare a 10-15 minute presentation to the class on their project. Instruct students to address the organization’s mission, activities, impact, etc.
- Just Shelter (justshelter.org)
- National Low Income Housing Coalition (nlihc.org)
- The National Housing Law Project (nhlp.org)
- Urban Institute (urban.org)
- National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (civilrighttocounsel.org)
Identity Project (adapted from NC State’s “Creative Project”)Choose an individual from Evicted and create two representations of this person’s identity: how he/she thinks others view him/her, and how the individual views himself/herself. You may use any medium you want. Some potential options include:
- Song or other audio art
- Poem or other written art
- Painting, drawing, photography, or other two-dimensional art
- Sculpture, model, diorama, or other three-dimensional art
- Other creative representation of identities
Written Identity Reflection (adapted from NC State’s “Creative Project”)Please address the following questions. Your response to each question should be thorough but limited to one or two paragraphs per question. Overall, your written reflection should be no more than three pages.
- Define what identity means to you, and describe the identities you feel apply to you as an individual.
- Select one person from the book whom you found interesting (you may select the author). Briefly describe the person and his/her experience. How are that person’s identities different from yours? In what ways are his/her identities similar to yours? How might you and this person experience life differently?