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Eviction is a cause - not a symptom - of poverty

On Sept. 28, the MacArthur Foundation announced the recipients of its 2015 fellowships, also known as "genius grants." Among the 24 innovative artists, academics, and activists awarded the $625,000 stipend was sociologist Matthew Desmond, who has been exploring the role of housing policy in perpetuating economic and racial inequality in American cities.

A professor at Harvard University, Desmond studies the low-income rental market in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and has asserted that eviction is a cause, rather than simply a symptom, of poverty.

He has extensively researched the high rates of eviction in Milwaukee and the destructive effect it has on the lives of low-income citizens, primarily African Americans. Among his findings are the trend that women are more likely to face eviction than men, and that women who report domestic violence in Milwaukee are frequently evicted because a local ordinance deems the reports "nuisance calls." The ordinance has since been put under review by the city.

While Philadelphia's specific housing policies differ from Milwaukee's, Desmond's research is relevant to any American city because of the connection it draws between unstable housing and the cycle of poverty.

Rather than simply being one item on a list of goals to work towards, housing is an essential need, the lack of which has an overall destabilizing effect on a person.

As we experience what U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donavan has called "the worst rental affordability crisis this country has ever known," we must continue, like Desmond, to examine the impact of this systemic issue and work towards solutions.