Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Anthropology

First Advisor

John L. Jackson, Jr.

Abstract

My dissertation examines a specific form of low-income homeownership in New York City known as limited equity cooperatives (LECs). I examine conceptions of property relations among low-income urban people of color as they transition to homeownership in these housing cooperatives, as well as the role of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB), an organization in New York City that assists renters in their transformation into cooperative homeowners. Using an LEC located in the Harlem/Washington Heights area as a case study, I explore how residents negotiate their new roles as collective owners, not renters, and argue that these new economic practices transform their subjectivities and social relationships, highlighting the inextricable (and mutually constitutive) links binding race, ethnicity, gender and class. My research uses an immersion-based ethnographic approach conducted over two-and-a-half years that includes participant observation, semi-structured interviews and life histories with various actors in the affordable housing landscape, along with document analysis, as well as content and discourse analysis. I illuminate the larger issues of urban poverty, gentrification, housing/homeownership as a cultural expectation, and the links between urbanization and capitalist logics of accumulation and social organization.

My research uses heterotopia as part of its overarching theoretical framework. Foucault introduced the term heterotopia to refer to spaces outside of everyday life that construct their own rules and maintain insider/outsider delineations. Because of the collective nature of LECs, they have the ability to engage in contradictory modes of value by both subverting and upholding neoliberal ideology. These co-ops offer the potential for urban activism as "pockets of resistance" against social injustice and housing inequality. By blurring the private/public boundary, LECs shed light on the intersection between public policy and individual experience, and offer a model for how these contradictory forces can be balanced. Additionally, I analyze why the American Dream of homeownership remains entrenched in the collective psyche despite overwhelming proof of its economic, political and social costs, focusing on how certain non-commodified housing forms have the potential to make this dream less risky.

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