By: Nick Santangelo

On September 5, the College of Liberal Arts’ Public Policy Lab (PPL) proudly hosted its inaugural symposium. The event featured a series of panels on contemporary policy issues and concluded with a keynote from Princeton University Professor Matthew Desmond.

Over 300 people from Temple University and the wider policy community—city and state government, nonprofit organizations, foundations and advocacy groups—turned out for the symposium.

In her opening remarks, PPL Director Judith Levine highlighted the new center’s mission of bringing together scholars and the policy community. “PPL provides the structure to break down the walls between departments and disciplines and to build an exciting interdisciplinary exchange and even collaboration,” said Dr. Levine. “PPL also aims to break down walls between academia and the policy arena.”

The day began with panels on the intersections of academia and public policy, early childhood education and immigration. Levine and PPL fellows James Bachmeier (Sociology Department) and Elise Chor (Political Science Department) were joined by prominent panelists including Maria Cancian, Dean of Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy; Phoebe Haddon, Chancellor of Rutgers-Camden; Sozi Tulante, former City Solicitor of Philadelphia; and other noted speakers.

In his keynote address, Dr. Desmond presented recent data from the Eviction Lab, a research center founded after the publication of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Desmond pulled no punches in describing the severity of America’s housing challenges. Highlighting the rising costs of rent and utilities, stagnant wages and the severely limited availability of housing assistance, he showed how these conditions contribute to an eviction crisis.

As part of the research for his book, he discovered that the government was not tracking eviction numbers, which led to the creation of the Eviction Lab. Along with a team of researchers, Dr. Desmond has been compiling eviction records from across the country. They now estimate that over 6,300 Americans are evicted daily. In 2016, about 2.3 million households, many including children, received eviction filings. That exceeds the number of foreclosures at the height of the foreclosure crisis. 

“Eviction causes serious loss,” explained Dr. Desmond. “Families lose their homes. Kids lose their schools. You lose your community and neighborhood. You also might even lose your stuff.”

Further, being evicted puts a negative mark on future rental applications. Landlords may reject applicants because of it, often causing tenants to move into worse buildings in worse neighborhoods. According to studies Dr. Desmond and his team have performed, the stress caused by an eviction can also affect tenants’ mental health, cause them to be distracted and make mistakes at work, and can lead to joblessness. Eviction is not simply a consequence of poverty; it’s also a cause of poverty.

Desmond discussed several policy changes that could begin to address this crisis. Increasing public investments in affordable housing and rental assistance, limiting late fees and court costs for tenants, and making eviction courts a last resort rather than the first resort for landlords were just some of the suggestions offered. Turning to academics, Dr. Desmond also encouraged researchers to follow his team’s example of immediately releasing data, instead of waiting to be published in academic journals. His team has made a habit of sharing data with the press and politicians as soon as they become available.

“Let narrative change agents on the ground take hold and kind of run with the story,” recommended Dr. Desmond.

The symposium kicked off PPL’s inaugural year of activities, which includes a public lecture series beginning October 3 from 12:30 p.m. – 2 p.m. on the 10th floor of Gladfelter Hall.

PPL is now accepting applications for its 2020-2021 cohort of faculty and graduate student fellows. 

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