BCRW @ 50

Housing Justice

Over the past five decades BCRW has explored a wide range of issues within the framework of feminist scholarship and activism that focuses on social, economic, racial and gender justice including poverty and welfare, politics and policy, policing and incarceration, as well as community organizing and housing.  Over the past several years, we have devoted more consideration to movements, activism, and racial inequities due to the state of our politics, class divisions, a growing wealth divide, and race relations. At a foundational level sits the affordable housing crisis since it posits that one’s zip code is a good indicator of potential outcomes in life. The ability to secure safe, clean, affordable housing units has become more and more elusive as housing for profit remains ever-more accessible, especially in low-income and gentrified communities. The rise in unsheltered residents, evictions, and unemployment provide the perfect scenario for a nation-wide housing movement across issues and race.  Instead, we are seeing trends towards the reduction of units and privatization of public housing, which is the best safety-net housing program with the ability to answer these growing challenges. 

The public housing program began in 1937 with the passing of the United States Housing Act. In its early years, it was promoted as a progressive policy answer to high unemployment and housing conditions in, what the government deemed, the slums. The public housing program, composed mainly of working class residents, provided jobs and housing for veterans returning after the war, and was widely celebrated. By the mid-1970s, public housing had taken its fall from grace due to many failures at the federal level, including sanctioned segregation, racially discriminatory practices, and finally disinvestment. As government funding shifted toward homeownership, demographics shifted in public housing, and resources diminished. These policies had a domino effect on the ability to effectively manage and maintain housing stock and it began its fall into disrepair, which came with other problems including demolition, tenant selection, stigmatization and a myriad of quality of life issues. Residents, now mostly low-income families of color, immigrants, and single moms, who rely heavily on government subsidized housing, or public housing, were left out of the policy-making decisions that were meant to save and transform these units. 

To listen more closely to the resident voices and stories unheard, explore the experiences of low-income residents and communities of color, and interrogate discriminatory practices and policies that foster housing insecurity, homelessness and poverty, the BCRW Housing and Poverty Working Group was assembled using an anti-oppressive framework to create workshops and curate events to engage in conversations around women’s activism, organizing and resistance, community and neighborhood development, and racial, economic and social justice. 

These conversations pick up and expand on those started many years ago during past Scholar & Feminist Conferences. During an afternoon plenary of Women, the Environment, and Grassroots Movements (S&F XVIII in 1991), Cherryl P. Derricotte ‘87, discusses “housing as a profit-making endeavor versus housing as an integral part of our infrastructure and as the fabric of our community - investing in people as opposed to profit.”  She points out the male-dominated profession that comprises the housing industry - lobbying, architecture, construction, finance - and how women are mostly absent in the planning and development, not really looking at housing as a profession. Compare that with the conversations had in subsequent years on economic justice and work at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Justice in the Home conferences, which looked at the politics of care, whether it be in the home or community and how women are making substantive changes due to their increased activism and organizing. (Women, Poverty, and Welfare / Women and Housing) Or more recent events where similar discussions involving feminist activism, community surveillance, and policing at the Homes for All: Cages for None event in 2017. Much of the focus of the group’s work now centers around the activism of black women in low-income communities of color and the care and organizing that takes place with the most limited resources. 

The Housing and Poverty Working Group has incorporated these topics of conversation into a project they are currently working on titled “Changing the Narrative,” which is a resident-centered community engagement project seeking to alter and disrupt the discussion around the public housing program and experience to be more inclusive of resident voices and experiences in activism, community development, and organizing. The project seeks to make resident’s histories and experiences the focal point of the public housing narrative. To date, the group has developed workshops featuring residents, community organizations, and housing advocates. They have partnered with other artists and collaborated with activists on similar projects. With the assistance of the Digital Humanities Center Summer Institute, the group, spearheaded by Pam Phillips, created a website to archive audio and photographic files for use by researchers and residents.  

Work on Changing the Narrative continues in 2021, and events on housing justice continue to be a priority to BCRW. In early March 2020, our first event to be cancelled by the Coronavirus was a lecture by Keeyanga Yamahtta-Taylor, author of Race for Profit: Black Housing and the Urban Crisis of the 1970s. Other events included the 2019 screening of the film Decade of Fire: Stay, Fight, Build, followed by a panel discussion with director Vivian Vázquez Irizarry.

This page has paths:

This page references: