"She got rejected 89 times before she heard yes."

Affordable housing is a prerequisite for informational interviewing

Hi there Informational Interviewers!

Have you joined our new slack group? If not, I hope you will consider it. There are a few of us in there and I think we’re having a lot of fun. If you need some moral support as you embark on your informational interviewing journey, you’ll find it in our little club.

In the meantime, I’m writing about housing today. It may not seem relevant to informational interviewing, but I promise you it is!

Okay, stay savvy!


Affordable housing is a prerequisite for informational interviewing

Affordable housing is key to actualizing human potential. No one knows this better than Matthew Desmond who explored the exploitation of poor people through the lens of housing in his 2016 book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” According to Desmond, lack of access to affordable housing damages people’s health, harms children’s educational outcomes, and make it difficult for adults to improve their professional or financial situations.

That last part is what interests me the most (for the purposes of this newsletter). As more people becomes burdened by the cost of housing, it will become harder for people to realize their full potential.

In his reporting for “Evicted” Desmond encountered stark examples of the way housing instability and scarcity robs people of their time, talents and energies. Here’s Desmond from an interview with The Atlantic in May:

In Evicted, I followed this woman I called Arlene. After one eviction, she started applying for housing. She applied to 20 apartments. Then 40 apartments. Then 60. Then 80. I was counting, and she was accepted to none of them. Finally, the 90th person said yes. She got rejected 89 times before she heard yes. Rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, then to have someone ask you to think about job training? Or even showing up at your kid’s parent-teacher conference? Poverty just taxes your mind. It captures your mind.

That’s so crucial to our policy debate, because many times we have the causality backwards. Folks will say, If you want to get out of poverty, get a better job and make better decisions. But the evidence is that once we have a floor under people, that’s when they can start self-actuating.

When I read these paragraphs I was struck by Arlene’s tenacity. Granted, she didn’t have much of a choice; tenacity was required of her. But what could she have done with all that grit and determination if she already had safe, affordable housing? Surely someone willing to fill out 90 apartment application would also be willing to send 90 cold e-mails in pursuit of a a good job. It’s a travesty for Arlene that our society robbed her of her energies in this way. But it’s also a tragedy for our society that we deprived ourselves of her talents.

While I’ve never experience the kind of housing precarity that Arlene experienced, my boyfriend and I have been house hunting in Madison, Wisconsin and it has been STRESSFUL! The housing trends that have upended communities from Boise, Idaho to Austin, Texas are coming for the Midwest and home prices are rising 15-20% year.

The result is a diffuse, slow-motion individual and communal criss. Yes, Madison mayor, Satya Rhodes-Conway, has a “Housing Forward” agenda that is designed to meet the city’s growing housing needs. But the best case scenario still involves dramatic and disruptive transformation.

For me, the stress of searching for America’s scarcest resource—stable affordable housing—has meant less time to devote to this newsletter, less time to spend on my relationship, less time for calling friends and family, and less time at the gym. I feel frustrated and annoyed. It shouldn’t be this hard.

But it is. And it is humbling and instructive to remember the tenacity of people like Arlene who had it much harder. It is also a reminder that our vocational paths must include efforts to address the nationwide housing crisis. We all can and should join our local Yimby organizations. Because the rising cost of housing in American will curtail all our dreams, hamper all our creativity, and reduce our ability to actualize our potential. Even if some of us never find ourselves on the bottom rung of the American economic ladder, without affordable housing, none of us are going to get very far.

What I read this week…

China’s defeated youth: Young Chinese have little hope for the future. Xi Jinping wants them to toughen up ~ The Economist Speaking of housing! China’s economy is in a world of hurt (you may have heard) and one of the reasons is housing. Housing is unaffordable (sound familiar?) and also the housing industry may be falling apart? This piece is paywalled, but very much worth the price of the subscription!

The Anti-California: How Montana performed a housing miracle ~ by Annie Lowrey for The AtlanticA success story for the YIMBYs. “‘All cities should look at San Francisco as an example of what happens when you do nothing.’ Montana did, benefiting from California’s missteps and learning from its YIMBY advocates.”What the heck happened in 2012? On the year the modern world was invented ~ Erik Hoel, The Intrinsic PerspectiveIf you are an elder millennial like me, this will really resonate. Basically the world entered a new epoch of weirdness the year we all graduated from college. Lucky us. Truly though, this piece has lots of fun graphs the will intrigue and alarm you.


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