After being evicted, Crystal moves into the Lodge. She didn’t attend her eviction hearing, mistakenly believing this would help her avoid a mark on her record. Crystal has mixed feelings about the Lodge, but it is a perfect place to find a new friend who will serve as a mother figure. She finds such a person in Vanetta Evans, a 20-year-old mother of three. Vanetta has a mature, “put-together” manner, and is skilled at disciplining her children. She and Crystal bond over shared cigarettes, then begin sharing snacks and meals. They start referring to themselves as sisters and decide to look for a home together.
A pattern emerges here: it is clear that Crystal has a habit of befriending women who she hopes will act as mother figures to her. Even though these women are not older than her, the fact that they have children makes them suitable candidates for the role. Considering Crystal and Arleen’s friendship suffered conflict between Crystal and Jori, it seems that Crystal may have a problem of competing for affection.
Vanetta was awaiting a sentence hearing. After being fired and evicted, she and a friend robbed two women and were arrested. She is now facing a fine of up to $100,000 or forty years imprisonment. Looking for an apartment, Crystal and Vanetta are desperate to avoid the North Side. They try a company called Affordable Rentals, which has a range of units at reasonable rates. They ignore a sign in the office stating that Affordable Renters refuses applicants who have evictions, drug or crime convictions, non-verifiable or insufficient income, or a bad reference from a previous landlord.
Racism is not the only reason why tenants try to avoid the North Side. Crystal and Vanetta likely do not share the same hysterical view of what the North Side is like as the trailer park residents. However, they know that the North Side is under-resourced and that there is a concentration of crime in the area, and thus understandably they hope to be somewhere else.
Vanetta is determined to find somewhere for under $550 because she doesn’t trust that Crystal will be able to reliably contribute to anything higher. Crystal spends money on clothes, fast food, the casino, and hefty donations to her church. Crystal attends church many days of the week; it is the center of her existence. Yet she keeps the fact that she is staying at the Lodge secret from almost everyone there, wanting to be seen as an equal rather than “an object of pity.”
Christianity teaches that the acquisition of wealth is morally suspect, that rich people are not necessarily destined for heaven, and that the poor deserve support. Yet many churches grow wealthy through donations by congregants, some of whom—like Crystal—are themselves impoverished.
After another disappointing episode in their housing search, Vanetta begins to cry, while Crystal comforts her by singing. Vanetta comments that they were probably turned away because they were black. Most people assume that segregation exists in Milwaukee because of the racism of individuals, but the city was actually designed this way. Tenement buildings exist because they bring in huge profits to landlords. Slums have been around for many centuries, and the problem of poor people being unable to afford housing also has a long history. Racial oppression and segregation in the United States has drastically compounded this problem.
It is painful for Vanetta and Crystal to experience racial discrimination in housing, and even more painful for them to not know for sure whether racism is what is keeping them from securing an apartment. This is part of the reason why anti-discrimination legislation has failed to stop discrimination from taking place: it is easy for landlords to obscure or deny the real reason why they refuse to take on certain tenants.
The Great Migration of the early 20th century—when black people moved North en masse from the South—is how many black people ended up in Milwaukee. These individuals were crowded into urban ghettos where they lived in often dismally substandard housing. While the New Deal helped white people become homeowners, black people were denied this support. This created a “semipermanent black rental class” who remained desperately vulnerable to exploitation by landlords. Even after housing discrimination along racial lines was outlawed, landlords used covert means (such as the list of rules at Affordable Rentals) to continue discriminating without consequences.
Again, we see that housing intersects with all the social issues plaguing American society today. Given the intense history of racist persecution and discrimination in the US, it is just not realistic that a fair housing system could emerge without serious intervention. Until such intervention takes place, black people will continue to be exploited and ill-served by the deeply racist forces at play in housing.
After lashing out at an employee at the Lodge, Crystal is kicked out and is forced to turn to Minister Barber from church for help. He finds an elderly couple who allow her to stay one night before forcing her to leave, likely because she didn’t give them any money. She doesn’t have any after recently lending a cousin $400, which she’d won at the casino. Crystal often cannot help but extend charity to those in need. She once bought a meal for a boy at McDonalds who had been looking for scraps at the tables, and said she wished she had somewhere to live so she could bring him back with her. Now, she dials all the numbers she has in order to ask for help. No one answers.
Crystal’s selflessness and generosity have helped her to preserve a sense of her own dignity in the midst of the degradation caused by poverty. Yet the fact that people are unwilling to return this generosity undoes the positive effect that Crystal’s kindness had on her own self esteem. It is deeply unjust that someone who gives so much when she has so little is turned away by the people around her in her hour of need.