Sunbelt Blues: The Failure of American Housing

Metropolitan Oct. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9781250804228. $27.99. SOC SCI
Is housing a commodity to be leveraged for economic gain, or a basic human right? Sociologist Ross argues that it’s entrenched as the former by the market and policy, to the detriment of millions of middle- and lower-income Americans. Drawing on extensive fieldwork and informed by his 1999 book The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town, Ross studies the persistent shortage of affordable housing from the vantage point of its geographic exemplar: central Florida, which he says is among the most unaffordable markets in the United States and is the home of thousands low-wage service workers who struggle to make rent. He visits tent dwellers along Route 192, explores how moteliers have become ersatz landlords, documents the uphill battles of scrappy activist residents, notes how corporate America creates the conditions of poverty, and builds a case indicting the intertwined, devastating impacts—worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic—of climate change, institutional racial inequity, unlivable wages, investor-owned real estate, market-oriented lawmakers, and overdevelopment.
VERDICT This book will have particular interest for libraries in the Sunbelt, but it’s not just about Florida: full-time minimum wage workers can barely afford rent anywhere in the nation. Ross calls to end market-driven housing and empower residents to make reform; for dwellers and policy-makers, reading this book may be a first step toward that empowerment.
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