WNYC Studios’ On the Media and Matthew Desmond’s The Eviction Lab Present "The Scarlet E: Unmasking America's Eviction Crisis"

WNYC Studios’ On the Media and Matthew Desmond’s The Eviction Lab Present


A Four-Part Podcast and Radio Series Examining the Nation’s Eviction Epidemic
Debut episode available today

(New York, NY – June 7, 2019) – Starting today, WNYC Studios’ Peabody Award–winning program On the Media presents “The Scarlet E: Unmasking America’s Eviction Crisis,” a four-part series which dives deep into the nation’s eviction epidemic.

Produced in partnership with Pulitzer Prize–winning author and sociologist Matthew Desmond and his groundbreaking national database compiled by The Eviction Lab at Princeton University, “The Scarlet E” tells the story of this largely underreported phenomenon through a blend of data, commentary, and first-person narratives.

Using The Eviction Lab as a guide, On the Media co-host Brooke Gladstone visits some of the cities hardest hit by evictions. Through on the ground reporting in Richmond, VA, Atlanta GA, Chicago, IL, Indianapolis IN, and Camden, NJ, the series charts a course to the heart of the crisis.

“The Scarlet E” introduces listeners to the voices of those caught up in the eviction process: landlords, lawyers, activists, academics, politicians and, most especially, tenants who are living through this ordeal, including:

  • Hank Roberts, a housing advocate grappling with the agonizing decision of whether to evict a long-time tenant who is ill, but whose continued delinquency threatens Hank’s own ability to hold on to his home.
  • Destiny Mattison, a single mom and city caseworker in Camden, who is a casualty of “serial eviction filing,” an increasingly common practice that cripples tenants with fine upon fine.
  • Richmond resident Jeffrey and his family, whose brush with eviction has branded them with the “Scarlet E” and left them unable to find a landlord willing to rent to them, despite new employment and a steady cash flow.
  • Dovie Newell, a tenant of Techwood Homes in Atlanta, the nation’s first federal public housing project built under Franklin Roosevelt, who has spent her life working and paying rent with some government support.
  • WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore, whose own family was part of the Great Migration north, and who gives Brooke a very personal tour of Chicago’s South Shore.

“When we began reporting this series, I thought I understood the causes of America’s eviction epidemic. Unemployment, gentrification...but I was wrong,” said Brooke Gladstone, Co-host and Managing Editor, On the Media. “The roots of eviction date back to the nation’s founding­, fueled through time by the formation of markets, the rise of corporations, and the persistence of racism.  The story of eviction is actually an entry point into the larger story of America.”

“The good news is that we can cure it,” Gladstone continued. “And if we do – if we try – we’ll also be treating everything else that ails us.”

“The Scarlet E” premieres today on www.onthemedia.org, iTunes, and all other places where podcasts may be downloaded. The series will also be broadcast weekends through June starting June 8 and 9 as part On the Media’s weekly radio program, which airs nationally on 450 public radio stations.

The episode descriptions are as follows:

  •         Episode 1 – “The Crisis” – The journey starts in Richmond, VA, where Jeffrey and Kelly, along with their three children, have been evicted after falling behind on less than one month’s rent. The family ends up in a pay-by-the-week motel, marked with the “Scarlet E” of eviction. They have a reliable income flow now, but no one will rent to them. Why? Gladstone and Desmond hash out what we really know — and what we only think we know — about the forces that actually drive eviction and chronic homelessness. Is it unemployment? Housing shortfalls? Landlords? Gentrification? It’s complicated.  
  •         Episode 2 – “40 Acres” – The Eviction Lab’s data revealed a stark, unsettling truth: the top evicting communities are perfectly aligned with the northward path of the Great Migration of African Americans fleeing the brutality of the Jim Crow South in the 20th century. This episode draws a direct line from the racist laws that permeated the founding of America, through Reconstruction and the New Deal, to the housing instability plaguing black and brown communities today. In Chicago, a key stop for African Americans fleeing the South, Brooke meets Hank Roberts, whose family history takes us from the South, to Chicago, through the contract-buying scandals and evictions of the 1960s all the way to the present day.
  •         Episode 3 – “Landlords & Tenants” – As the American dream of homeownership becomes ever more elusive and as we are transforming into a nation of renters, “The Scarlet E” examines the fraught relationship between landlords and tenants. Gladstone travels to Indianapolis, #14 on the worst evicting cities list, to meet Barb Getty, a “good” landlord who keeps her properties well-maintained and is willing to accept partial payments from her tenants when they fall behind. But still, she has evicted — formally or informally — dozens of people during her almost three decades on the job. In Richmond, VA, Gladstone learns about another kind of landlord: limited liability corporations, whose owners are shielded from the harm they may cause the most vulnerable tenants through systematic exploitation.
  •         Episode 4 – “Solutions” – While the eviction epidemic feels insurmountable, solutions do exist, and the series concludes with stories of action and change. After his city took the #2 spot on The Eviction Lab’s worst evicting cities list, Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, VA and members of the city’s eviction task force took steps to inspire a slew of new state legislation to better protect tenants. Public housing expert Lawrence Vale discusses the rise and fall of many 20th-century projects — and how public housing might succeed in the 21st century.  And in Atlanta, the “most unequal city in America,” Gladstone talks with Dovie Newell (a tenant of Techwood Homes, the nation’s first federal public housing project, built under Franklin Roosevelt) about a life spent working and paying rent with some help from the government, and the stability and peace of mind it gave her.


Support for “The Scarlet E: Unmasking America’s Eviction Crisis,” is provided by the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Melville Charitable Trust. Additional support is provided by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and “Chasing the Dream,” a WNET initiative reporting on poverty and opportunity in America.



WNYC Studios is the premier producer of on-demand and broadcast audio, home to some of the most critically acclaimed and popular podcasts of the last decade, including Radiolab, On the Media, Nancy, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Death, Sex & Money, Snap Judgment, Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin, and 2 Dope Queens. WNYC Studios is leading the new golden age in audio with podcasts and national radio programs that inform, inspire, and delight millions of intellectually curious and highly engaged listeners across digital, mobile, and broadcast platforms. Its programs include personal narratives, deep journalism, interviews that reveal, and smart entertainment as varied and intimate as the human voice itself. For more information, visit wnycstudios.wnyc.org


Matthew Desmond is the Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. He started studying housing, poverty, and eviction in 2008, living and working alongside poor tenants and their landlords in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Combining ethnographic fieldwork with original statistical analyses, Desmond discovered that eviction was incredibly prevalent in low-income communities and functioned as a cause, not just a condition, of poverty. This work was summarized in his book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016), which won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Carnegie Medal, and PEN / John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction.

When speaking to people and policymakers across the country about Evicted, Desmond realized the need to collect national data on eviction to address fundamental questions about residential instability, forced moves, and poverty in America. With the support of the Gates, JPB, and Ford Foundations, as well as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Desmond founded The Eviction Lab in 2017 with the conviction that stable, affordable housing can be an effective platform to promote economic mobility, health, and community vitality. Drawing on tens of millions of records, the  team of researchers, students, and website architects, Eviction Lab at Princeton University has published the first-ever dataset of evictions in America, going back to 2000. A Contributing Writer for The New York Times Magazine, Desmond is the is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the American Bar Association's Silver Gavel Award, and was  listed in 2016 among the Politico 50, as one of "fifty people across the country who are most influencing the national political debate." For more information visit www.evictionlab.org


Unfurl Productions is a Brooklyn-based production company founded in 2017 by Peabody award-winning producer Eve Claxton and editor Domenica Alioto. Unfurl’s team of writers and producers are devoted to nonfiction storytelling across books, radio, podcasts, exhibits and digital media. The Head of Audio for Unfurl is Peabody award-winning producer Katherine Simon. Most recently, members of Unfurl have worked on the exhibition Evicted, at the National Building Museum in Washington DC, and Busted: America’s Poverty Myths for On the Media, winner of a Front Page award. For more information visit www.unfurlproductions.com.