Project NOW hosts exhibit Evicted

National exhibition inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning book

Visitors to the new opening of the national exhibit Evicted, take in one of the displays Wednesday, May 15. The traveling, thought-provoking exhibit for a 12-week run, at SouthPark Mall in Moline.

“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.” 

In the time it took a crowd of Quad Citians to count those numbers aloud, someone in America was being evicted.

“I asked you to do that because every eight seconds someone in this country is evicted,” The Rev. Dwight Ford, executive director for Project NOW, told more than 80 people on hand for the opening of the national exhibit Evicted. The traveling, thought-provoking exhibit opened Wednesday, May 15, for a 12-week run, and is on display to the public at SouthPark Mall in Moline.  

The large crowd of supporters – many involved in affordable housing work – were on hand as Project NOW unveiled the exhibit that explores the causes and impacts of eviction. 

In illustrating the depth of the crisis, Mr. Ford said “2.3 million individuals are currently unhoused or destabilized by the reality of eviction in this country… But we also are concerned about how our Quad Cities community is doing.” 

Citing a pre-COVID-19 report by the Quad Cities Housing Cluster, he said the Quad Cities then was facing a shortage of 6,445 affordable housing units. “A lack of affordable housing leads to more evictions,” he said. 

The exhibit, which has traveled the country, was inspired by Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” 

The Quad Cities is only the second Illinois stop (after Chicago) for the exhibit that the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., first opened in 2018. 

“People asked us why we got involved at this level that we would advocate and try to secure a national exhibit, well most of the people that are evicted are low-income, low wage earning individuals,” said Mr. Ford.

Project NOW and other housing advocates hope the exhibit shines a light on what is becoming one of the nation’s most devastating problems. 

“This exhibit is supported by fact-based data, lived experience narratives that confront the myths, misnomers, and misinformation concerning the current state of homelessness and the root causes that lead to eviction displacement,” Mr. Ford said. 

Specially commissioned visual infographics and forward-thinking design introduce visitors to the numbers and statistics they need to know to understand the eviction crisis. 

“Behind every data point is a family whose entire life has been upended by housing insecurity, as well as the social stigmas that often follow,” Brenda O’Connell of the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) told the crowd. 

“For those not familiar with IHDA, we are the Housing Finance Agency for the State of Illinois, and our mission is to finance the creation and preservation of affordable housing,” said Ms. O’Connell, who is just one week on the job. “We do this in every county of the state. We believe that safe and stable housing is a fundamental right.”    

In Rock Island County alone, she said, there are more than 3,500 affordable rental homes or apartments built or renovated with IHDA financing. In the past year, 165 Illinois QC families bought their first home with an IHDA grant. 

“Still, the sheer numbers of households affected by this issue is staggering,” Ms. O’Connell added. “Even before the pandemic, an estimated 51,600 eviction cases were filed against Illinois tenants each year. That means that 141 families received an eviction notice each day.”

In 2023, nearly 12,000 Illinois residents experienced homelessness on any given night, she said. “And many more are one emergency or misstep away from losing their housing.” 

She credited Gov. J.B Pritzker and his administration with bringing “a new commitment to changing systems and using every resource to address these housing crises.”

Mr. Pritzker created the Illinois Office to Prevent and End Homelessness (IOPEH) in 2021.  

The first-of-its-kind endeavor, Ms. O’Connell added, is uniting state agencies, nonprofits, advocates and people with lived experience in an intergovernmental approach “to improve the safety net and end homelessness in our state.”

In addition to Project NOW, the exhibit is sponsored by Supportive Housing Providers Association (SHPA), which facilitates the Illinois Homelessness Education and Technical Assistance (TA) Center. Its Illinois stop also was made possible by the TA Center and support from the Illinois Department of Human Services. 

Leaders from some of the state organizations on hand for the opening said they hope Evicted also shines a spotlight on the work that Illinois and others are doing to assist this vulnerable population. 

David Esposito, SHPA’s executive director, discussed how a year ago the IOPEH was creating the TA Center and one of its primary focuses was to bring the touring Evicted exhibit to Illinois. 

“The exhibit provides a platform for people to understand the complex factors that contribute to homelessness such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, discriminatory housing policies, the lack of tenant protections and economic inequality,” he said. 

Mr. Esposito also told the crowd that the exhibit “serves as a catalyst for policy discussion and encourages policymakers to prioritize and implement changes that support the creation of permanent supportive housing and address the underlying causes of homelessness.” 

Also on hand to celebrate the opening of Evicted in her city was Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati, whose work in housing accessibility was applauded by Mr. Ford. 

“Our mayor does some things that helped us understand what shared prosperity is,” he said.  Repeating a comment he has heard her say publicly, Mr. Ford said “her efforts and her administration, and the chief goal is that anyone can live in the city of Moline. I took that to heart.” 

Ms. Rayapati, who was pleased Moline was involved in providing a temporary home for the Evicted exhibit, said “I hope after you go through … that you come away with a renewed understanding that we need each other. We absolutely need each other.” 

“Policymakers can have all the wonderful intentions of helping our community … but we need everyone to take the time to understand the policies we’re trying to enact, who they’re meant to help, how they’re going to help and how it matters to the whole community,” Ms. Rayapati said.

For the next three months, Evicted will be on display in the SouthPark’s former Express Store. Open to the public, organizers also hope that other community action agencies – whose focus is on affordable housing, poverty and other related issues – will use the space to meet as well as to attend planned lectures and other activities.  

Mr. Ford said the community partners involved also hope the exhibit’s presence and message can lead to better public policy and a call to action. “The Quad Cities can become a leader in the effort to secure affordable rental property, protect the rights of tenants, and provide the needed services to children and families vulnerable to eviction.” 

Evicted will be on display through Saturday, Aug. 10. Admission is free. To book a private tour or event, email questions@projectnow.org. For a calendar of dates and times, visit Project NOW’s website here.  

“Evicted the exhibit, simply reminds us that everyone has a story, and that story is the human story, and our involvement can determine how our collective story ends,” Mr. Ford said.

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