On the day of the council’s decision, Tobin attends court accompanied by his wife and lawyer. Tobin’s lawyer had, at the last minute, promised that if Tobin’s license was renewed then Tobin would take a one-day landlord training class, hire 24-hour security for the park, evict problematic residents, and attend to all the code violations. In addition, he would sell the trailer park within one year; the lawyer had pointed out that the residents were vulnerable and should be given more notice so they could find somewhere else to live.
The lawyer’s recommendations show that Tobin is not truly interested in the wellbeing of the current residents of the park. Instead, he is happy to push an undetermined number of residents under the bus—leaving them with nowhere to live—in order to convince the council to let him keep his license until he sells the park.
Alderman Witkowski, despite being “no friend of Tobin’s,” agrees with this last point and says that they should avoid forcing these vulnerable tenants to move on such short notice. A spirited debate ensues, and eventually the council agrees to let Tobin keep the park as long as he takes urgent action to clean it up. Tobin immediately begins evicting people, as often happens when government officials put pressure on landlords. With 28-day notices, landlords do not need to give a reason for the eviction. Office Susie comments that amidst the widespread evictions, she had “a beautiful collection,” meaning a successful gathering of rent money.
The council’s ruling shows that they, too, do not really care about the tenants living in Tobin’s park. They don’t want the park to cause any more nuisance, even if this means mass evictions. This spate of evictions is extra unjust because they are so arbitrary—Tobin carries them out simply to appease the council, and doesn’t even have to give a reason to tenants about why they’re being evicted.
Pam and her boyfriend, Ned Kroll, attempt to stop their eviction by paying $1,500, but Tobin says they owe more than that (and has told also been told by Office Susie that Pam smokes crack). Tobin had originally given the couple a trailer in a deal known as the “handyman special,” wherein a tenant owns their trailers but pays rent for the ground on which it is parked and maintains responsibility for upkeep. Yet moving a trailer is so expensive that tenants rarely do it. If evicted, residents almost always leave the trailer behind, putting it back in the landlord’s possession. Owning one’s trailer is far more a “psychological” comfort than a financial asset.
As is made clear throughout the book, the psychological problems caused by housing instability can be just as serious as the material problems. This is why people choose to “own” their trailer even though they will almost certainly abandon it after leaving the trailer park. Even the illusion of owning one’s house provides a small degree of comfort, particularly in a world in which eviction is constantly around the corner.
Across the country, unaffordable housing has created an enormous market for cheap units such as trailers. Even in the midst of the license renewal fiasco, Tobin’s trailer park still had a waitlist. As a result, landlords like Tobin have no incentive to be lenient with their tenants.
This is the very crux of why housing is so unjust and chaotic today. Even the most cruel and careless landlords will still have tenants desperate to move into their properties, meaning they have no incentive to act fairly.
Pam is pregnant again. She already has four daughters, two of whom were with her ex-boyfriend, a black man who had been her drug dealer. These girls, Bliss and Sandra, are the only black children in the trailer park. Their father used to beat up Pam. After she left him, her life took a brief hopeful turn; she worked as a certified nursing assistant and her brother came off heroin with the help of methadone. Yet before long, Pam’s brother relapsed and died, and Pam began using crack to cope with the pain.
Pam’s story contains many factors that commonly exacerbate the issues caused by poverty and housing instability: drug use, drug-related death, domestic violence, and racism. These issues have both a cause and effect relationship to the economic insecurity Pam faces.
Ned and Pam met through their crack addiction and soon began selling together. Before long they were caught and sent to prison. After getting out, Pam became pregnant, and they had another daughter, Kristen. Ned’s daughter from a previous relationship, Laura, also joined the family. After Pam got pregnant again, Ned briefly left the family before coming back.
Like most people in the book, Ned and Pam do not only have to worry about how their housing circumstances will affect themselves, but also their children. This creates an added layer of pressure and reduces the options available to them.
After Tobin informs them that they are being evicted, Ned and Pam fight over whose fault it is. They sell all the possessions they can. Pam recently lost her job after her car gave out and she had no way of commuting. Both she and Ned are still using drugs, which eats into their money. Pam asks Scott, a heroin user in his later 30s, if she, Ned, and the girls can temporarily move in with him and his roommate, an older man named Teddy. The men agree and don’t ask Pam for money. This annoys Tobin, who decides to hand Scott and Teddy an eviction notice, telling them they have taken on Ned and Pam’s debt.
In this passage, Scott and Teddy’s act of kindness is contrasted with Tobin’s blatant cruelty. Although Tobin is known for being a somewhat flexible and understanding landlord, he still readily evicts a family with young children and then evicts the tenants with whom this family seeks shelter. Such actions indicate that the bar for a landlord’s behavior is extremely low.