An interdisciplinary scholar who studies how housing policies are shaped by race, gender, political economy, and ideology, her untitled manuscript-in-progress historically and ethnographically traces how low-income black women have been affected by post-1970s changes in public and affordable housing policies and advocacy. Her research project also examines the contemporary landscape of affordable housing policy and politics to better understand why low-income black women remain vulnerable to eviction, displacement, and housing insecurity in cities like the District of Columbia. Additionally, her work presents the organizing challenges low-income black women tenant activists in D.C. face as they organize to combat the city's reduction and privitization of affordable housing.
My dissertation historically and ethnographically traces how low-income black women have been affected by recent changes in public and affordable housing policies and advocacy. This dissertation examines the contemporary landscape of affordable housing policy and politics to better understand why low-income black women remain vulnerable to eviction, displacement, and housing insecurity in cities like the District of Columbia. Feminist scholars have documented how low-income black mothers won tenant rights and greater access to public housing during the civil rights movement. Yet very little research has examined the post-1970s changes to affordable housing policy and black women’s tenant activism. In order to capture the empirical and theoretical complexity of low-income black women’s experiences in affordable housing policy and politics, this study employs a new epistemological approach called black feminist materialism. Black feminist materialism combines black feminist theories including intersectionality, critical theory, and feminist theories on the welfare state. Black feminist materialism provides the theoretical perspective needed to conduct critical ethnography, critical discourse analysis, and historical materialism. Armed with my feminist-minded theoretical perspective and after conducting archival and primary source research, I discovered federal and local housing bureaucrats used negative stereotypes about low-income black mothers to advocate post-1970s market reforms of public and affordable housing. Borrowing a term originally coined by critical urbanist Ananya Roy, I call these stereotypes poverty truths because these negative narratives facilitated policy interventions that had disciplinary and carceral effects. Housing officials used poverty truths to reduce funding, conduct mass evictions, and advocate for character rehabilitation services (e.g., job readiness/parenting classes) in exchange for housing assistance. In order to understand tenant activists’ response to these policy reforms, I analyzed the District of Columbia’s affordable housing advocacy community. To examine this community, I conducted participant observation as a community organizer for 18 months, starting in late 2013 and ending in early 2015. Moreover, I conducted thirty non-profit staffers and ten low-income black women living in public and affordable housing. Post-1970s market reforms to affordable housing led to D.C. non-profit developers and service providers leading affordable housing production and advocacy. No longer leading tenant campaigns, low-income black women are recruited into non-profit developers and service providers’ advocacy models. These non-profits’ advocacy efforts are limited to regulatory reform (i.e., small improvements to existing laws), often ignoring or reducing black women tenant activists’ demands for structural reforms, which included calls for massive state investment in living-wage work, public and affordable housing, and childcare supports. This dissertation concludes with reflections on how non-profit organizing groups and low-income black women tenant activists can help develop tenant solidarity and a political analysis to counter the negative consequences of market and disciplinary housing reforms.