Housing and Urbanization in the United States

This course examines housing as both an individual concern and an object of policy and planning. It is intended to provide those with an interest in urban policy and planning with a broad background on why housing matters and how its unique attributes a) give rise to certain policy and planning challenges and b) should shape how practitioners respond to these challenges. A major theme of the course is that consequences of previous policy and planning interventions have had lasting effects.  These are reflected today in continued residential segregation by race and income, the persistence of barriers to affordable and healthy housing, and gaps in homeownership rates and housing wealth by race and ethnicity. The theme of structural racism as shaping access to housing over US history will be examined at some length.

The course first lays out a framework for understanding the roles housing plays in individuals’ lives, neighborhoods, and the metropolis. Class sessions examine the unique attributes and roles of housing, including the role of homes as constitutive of the private and domestic realms, housing as an icon and encoder of social status, and housing as a commodity. This section of the course also explores housing as a driver of urbanization and shaper of neighborhoods, as well as theories of neighborhood change.

The next four sessions of the course focus on government interventions into housing in the United States from the beginning of urbanization up to the 1960s. Classes cover early efforts to eradicate slums and improve housing for the poor; systematic efforts to enforce segregation by race in the early 20th century including the practice of redlining; federal involvement in homeownership and suburbanization, ; the policy motivations and design of early public housing and urban renewal programs; and local interventions to regulate the development of housing and access to it, particularly in suburbs.

The third section of the course focuses on a second wave of interventions arising in the 1960s in response to unanticipated consequences of earlier interventions, including public housing and urban renewal, as well as responses to demographic and economic shifts and the Civil Rights and citizen participation movements. This section of the course examines policy interventions aimed at affordability, including rental subsidy programs, fair housing law, and community development programs, and reflects new ideas about who should be in charge of revitalization plans and where federal assistance should be targeted.

The final section of the class takes us to the present, examining more recent trends shaping housing and planning and policy interventions. Sessions will focus on the housing and foreclosure crisis and its aftermath; recent trends in and responses to concentrated poverty and segregation by race and income; and gentrification. We will also take an in-depth look at the current housing situations of low-income households and housing’s relationship to poverty and health. Final classes will look at the implications of the ongoing affordability crisis for future housing supply, as well as demographic shifts and climate change that are forcing planners and policymakers to reevaluate the design of our housing stock and its location. Given the slow departure from the housing sphere by the federal government, these sessions will necessarily focus more on local responses to housing issues.