As winter progresses with cold, rain and snow, Dorothy Gale’s words from “The Wizard of Oz” ring true, “there’s no place like home.”
But according to a recent report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, housing has become unaffordable for half of U.S. renters. That’s 22.4 million renter households that spent more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities (almost half of those paid more than 50% of their income on housing), impacting the rising number of evictions and homelessness.
In local numbers, a little over 6,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Chicago on a given day in 2023. Over 35,000 people seeking asylum have come to Chicago since August 2022 and the city has struggled to shelter all the new arrivals.
Given such statistics, the National Public Housing Museum launched “Evicted,” an immersive exhibit set to run through March 10. Inspired by Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” the work spotlights renters’ eviction stories in an effort to kick-start and provide a space for dialogue on housing insecurity, its causes and ramifications.
Visitors to the exhibit can walk into four house structures to see statistics, videos, a map of evictions across the country and family stories giving different dimensions of the act of eviction from the court’s role to who gets impacted the most. There’s also a sculptural object composed of shrink-wrapped materials of an evicted household. Lisa Yun Lee, executive director of the National Public Housing Museum, says the interactive displays aim to foster empathy and awareness by looking at the challenges individuals and families face to maintain a stable living environment.
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“This issue of housing insecurity is weighing heavy on so many of us,” Lee said. “‘Evicted’ is an incredible window for us to understand, not just the surface budding statistics about eviction in America, but this idea of what it means for everybody to have a right to a place to call home and the devastating impacts of what happens when you lose your home. It’s one of those things which affects everyone across America, but the exhibit makes clear that evictions impact Black women in a much more expanded way than it impacts other people.”
The touring exhibit was at the National Building Museum before the pandemic, and has now landed locally where three educators are on site to talk to visitors. The educators are people who have been evicted, who are houseless and who have experienced housing insecurity, Lee said. The educators answer questions and share their own stories. Other programming around the project includes an eviction meeting with the Chicago Housing Justice Coalition discussing the Just Cause for Eviction campaign on Jan. 31.
Work continues in the field. Lee hopes the exhibit will be seen by many, intergenerationally from school groups to policymakers, to understand eviction as a systemic issue and not one where individuals have made bad choices.
Lee mentioned that Desmond stopped by to see the installation of the exhibit, citing the stories being told by the educators makes a difference.
“We are thinking about what is in the works for Chicago and Cook County and how this exhibit can help advance creative policy around evictions,” Lee said. “It’s the power of the people to challenge unjust laws. With eviction, there’s all of these laws on the books and it takes a group of concerned citizens to say, ‘Hey, why is this the case?’ It’s not like there’s one bad guy. Eviction is a societal, systemic issue that we need to address.”
“Evicted” runs through March 10, Thursdays-Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturdays-Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. at the National Public Housing Museum, 625 N. Kingsbury St.; free, more at nphm.org/programs/exhibits