Larraine cleans out Beaker’s trailer while he remains in the hospital, recovering from his triple-bypass surgery. Larraine cannot afford to split the rent with Beaker now that she has to pay for storage, but she takes on some of the bills. Larraine’s food stamps have been cut off, and after Beaker returns from the hospital he refuses to share his Meals on Wheels. Larraine tries to make sure Lenny and Office Susie do not discover that she is still living in the trailer park in her brother’s trailer. Lenny and Office Susie are vital to Tobin. Alongside their administrative roles, they act as ambassadors, bringing the social divide between Tobin and his tenants.
Recall that Beaker never invited Larraine to stay in his trailer—she just moved in. Like many people in the book, Beaker’s ability to be generous is extremely limited by his meagre resources, which force him to concentrate on his own survival. Many of the very poorest people in the book remain selfless and generous, yet do so by making sacrifices that can lead to further impoverishment or eviction.
Lenny often feels sympathy for the tenants, but at the same time Tobin financially incentivizes him to collect as much rent each month as possible. He works with Roger, the DNS inspector, trying to persuade Roger to ignore as many code violations as he can. Roger is not overly scrupulous about violations, as he believes that writing them all up would ultimately benefit no one, including the tenants. Soon after taking over the trailer park, a company called Bieck Management fire Lenny and Office Susie. This causes distress and uncertainty in the trailer park. Even those who hate Lenny and Susie appreciate that they are familiar and predictable.
Again, very few people in the book are straightforwardly good or bad. Most combine moral and immoral choices, many of which are made under pressure or duress. Lenny’s sympathy for the tenants may mostly be outweighed by his desire to earn more money from Tobin, but Bieck Management are likely to be even less sympathetic. As the tenants know well, there is always a worse landlord out there somewhere.
Bieck give Lenny’s job to a 23-year-old college graduate who is “clueless and patronizing.” Tobin hires Mrs. Mytes to clean up a recently-vacated trailer, which is so disgusting its stench can be detected from ten feet away. Tobin pays her $20 for five hours’ work. Despite the lingering smell, new tenants move in soon after. Tobin charges them a reduced rate of $500 a month on the condition that they will do odd jobs for him.
Cleaning out a filthy trailer is one of the most undesirable jobs imaginable (not to mention hazardous to one’s health). Yet Tobin still pays Mrs. Mytes only $20 for five hours’ work cleaning, well below minimum wage. This again shows how desperation and extreme inequality breed exploitation.
An alderman estimated that the trailer park brings in $900,000 a year, though this calculation assumes that every tenant pays full rent and doesn’t include bills and expenses. Tobin bought the trailer park for $2.1 million in the mid-‘90s, paying it off after nine years. His net profit from the park is $447,000 per year, placing him in the top 1% of income while most of his tenants exist in the bottom 10%.
Tobin’s wealth is a direct product of the exploitation and suffering of impoverished people. Such a fact is profoundly disturbing and points to how broken today’s housing system is.