Peek Inside Somerville’s New Expulsion Exhibition

The exhibition was inspired by this book, expelledOpening Thursday at the Armory in Somerville by Matthew Desmond.


Evicted at the National Building Museum / Photo: Yassine el Mansouri

Despite living in renter-heavy Somerville for 20 years, David Gibbs, executive director of the anti-poverty group Somerville Community Action Agency, has never witnessed an eviction firsthand. And he’s not alone. But “Eviction,” a new exhibit at the Somerville Armory, brings the issue of eviction to the forefront using audio, visual and graphic depictions to remind visitors that it’s happening not just in their communities, but across the country.

“For most people, they don’t see evictions every day,” Gibbs said. “This exhibition brings all of that into a very clear, sharp focus.”

Immersive exhibition inspired by Evictions: Poverty and Profit in American Cities, a 2016 book by Matthew Desmond in which he follows eight Milwaukee families struggling to avoid eviction after the 2007-2008 financial crisis. The Somerville show looks at evictions on a local and national level, exploring not just the process of eviction but its impact.

The exhibition is national and debuted at the National Building Museum in April 2018. Since then, it has been redesigned for smaller venues and toured across the country. Somerville was the last stop before it closed permanently.

Gibbs said that when CAAS board member Kate Byrne proposed the idea to him, he was initially hesitant to bring in such a large installation — putting out such a big show isn’t usually the type of work they do. But the group decided to help bring the show to Somerville because of its ties to the Boston area, where sky-high rents are making too many people feel the pain of losing their homes. CAAS decided to also create its own local section of the exhibit, highlighting Somerville-specific housing and eviction data collected by CAAS itself.

Even if visitors never see the eviction, the exhibition doesn’t shy away from its harsh reality. In one room lay a pile of items wrapped in plastic representing items taken from the evicted family. On one wall, a map of the United States made up of cardboard moving boxes shows the number of evictions in each state in 2016. The bigger the box, the more evictions a state has in a year (the largest box goes to Maryland, with 628,873 due to state law allowing landlords to file eviction petitions without prior notice). In another, a house-like structure — one of several in the exhibition — contains a slideshow of a photo from a housing court and several pairs of headphones. Pick them up to hear audio of real court proceedings about evictions, and see how quickly some of these eviction decisions happen — and how they can change someone’s entire life in just a few minutes.

The exhibit also features striking visuals that provide information about the housing crisis as soon as visitors enter. They were greeted at the door by a mat with a quote from pediatrician Megan Sandel: “A stable, affordable home is a recipe for good health.” From there, use the belt There are infographics with yellow-popular black and gray color schemes to emphasize stark numbers, whether it’s how many affordable housing units per household that needs them or how many black women are at risk of eviction across the country. Black-and-white photos of the evicted help reflect those numbers.

Evicted at the National Building Museum.

Evicted at the National Building Museum. / Photo by Yassine el Mansouri

But perhaps most relevant to local visitors is the section of the exhibit dedicated to Somerville, where an infographic from CAAS community organizer Camila Gutierrez Plata shows how many of the city’s residents are affected by Housing costs and eviction injuries. On one wall, Mario Quiroz’s black-and-white photographs show gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood through the lens of the old (abandoned Starlight Market) and the new (Assembly Row’s development). In the center of the room is a 3D map by MIT graduate student Eric Huntley that shows how different communities in Somerville have been hit by the crisis.

Evicted Exhibition 2

A 3D visual map of Somerville as part of the Armory’s “Expulsion” exhibit / photo by Erin Kajata

With affordable housing in Greater Boston increasingly out of reach, why pay special attention to Somerville? Ellen Shachter, director of the Office of Housing Stability in Somerville, described the city as “at the heart of displacement.” More than 1,000 people have approached her office for help since early 2022, representing a “huge upgrade” from a few years ago. Since Somerville’s eviction ban ended in late June, they’ve seen many people turn to them for help after their homes are bought, with new landlords raising rents by hundreds of dollars a month. According to Zumper, the average cost of a one-bedroom in Somerville is now $2,525 per month, up 26 percent from last year, and more than 5,000 households spend more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing.

At the time of the exhibition, Shachter and other community sponsors (including CAAS, Welcome Project, Somerville Homeless Coalition, Somerville Arts Council, all the books she wrote, the Office of Housing Stability in Somerville, and Cambridge and Sa Merville Legal Services) hope it inspires more people to come forward and find a solution. In fact, visitors will be given a booklet at the end of their walkthrough with ideas on how they can get involved if they are inspired. “When people come to this exhibit, when they see pictures, when they hear voices, all of a sudden they start to understand the incredible consequences of homelessness,” Schacht said. “We really, really need people to understand the quiet desperation of people who are in this situation…I think all of us who were on this show together really felt like this was a way to speak to our legislators and hopefully let People are coming to this show, participating in finding solutions. It’s no longer just affecting low-income people. It’s affecting everyone.”

The exhibit opens to the public on September 10 and will be on display at the Armory in Somerville until November 4. It’s free to the public. For more information on the exhibit, please visit https://www.caasomerville.org/evicted-exhibit or contact Sinead O’Hara at sohara@caasomerville.org.

Evicted at the National Building Museum.Photo by Yassine el Mansouri (13)

Evicted at the National Building Museum. / Photo by Yassine el Mansouri

Evicted at the National Building Museum.  Photo by Yassine el Mansouri (1)

Evicted at the National Building Museum. / Photo by Yassine el Mansouri

Evicted at the National Building Museum. Photo by Yassine el Mansouri (10)

Evicted at the National Building Museum. / Photo by Yassine el Mansouri

Evicted at the National Building Museum.  Photo by Yassine el Mansouri (6)

Evicted at the National Building Museum. / Photo by Yassine el Mansouri

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