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  • Rethinking Gender in U.S. Housing Policy
  • Marie J. Fritz (bio)

Introduction

The federal government's complicity in racial discrimination in the development and administration of housing policy has been well documented,1 but the government's role in reproducing gendered federal housing policies in the United States has been largely unrecognized in political science. U.S. housing policy in the twentieth century is inextricably linked to perceptions of gender and the single family home, and the traditional nuclear family has been rendered a hegemonic entity. The politics of housing cannot be understood without an analysis of the effects that conceptions of gender have had on housing policy and in turn of the effects of such policy on the cultural and social norms surrounding gender. Although current housing policies reflect changed policy commitments from politically conservative administrations, present access to housing remains family-composition specific, which means that gender—alongside the more commonly recognized factors of race and class—is an integral part of the complex policymaking matrix. Contemporary federal low-income housing programs con tinue to bear the mark of early housing programs, characterized by nuclear family and single-family home rhetoric organized around a male-breadwinner model, and thus reinforces the nuclear-family ideal. Nuclear-family-centered ideology crystallized in the 1920s under the Hoover administration, escalated in the 1950s through suburbanization and urban disinvestment, and developed into policymaking that was increasingly punitive in the 1990s for those outside the nuclear- and nuptial-family norm. Although federal housing policies have been shaped by numerous competing interests, the nuclear family has acted as the legitimate norm around which policy has been organized. Both the federal government and the courts have contributed to this gendered structure of housing policy; the federal government, through the creation of public policies and the support of private business interests and the courts through the adjudication of housing-related issues, both of which tolerate, nurture, and endorse gender-stratified policies. Obtaining and maintaining housing relies on the performance of gender, and, more specifically, on the formation of nuclear or quasi-nuclear families.

Reframing Gendered Social Policy

Feminist readings of U.S. social policy and welfare-state regimes have shed new light on structural imbalances and bias—based on gender, race, and social class—present in the development of the American administrative state.2 These accounts implicitly or explicitly draw from T.H. Marshall's views of citizenship in which full membership in a national community extends from civic and political citizenship to social citizenship that involves access to basic economic security as a requirement to access political and civic rights.3 Scholars who examine national political regimes use a variation of social citizenship to include governance, which is an understanding of the relationships of citizens to political institutions and public policies.4 Thus, the creation of public policy in democratic regimes is not neutral, but rather has been shaped historically through a web of interest groups, private actors, and the commitments of political institutions. One consequence of this process in the United States has been that separate groups (women, men, blacks, immigrants) have been ascribed different civic rights based on the meanings and responsibilities attached to those groups and the roles to which they are relegated in private and public life. Public policies have been shaped around different commitments of welfare state regimes, and the relationship of gender to housing policy has been an important, but under-examined, part of this story.

Most salient to this is the interlinkage of the male breadwinner model and modern welfare regimes5 and in particular how social provisions have developed in the United States based on the way in which the aid is perceived by policy makers, the public, and the groups that receive the benefits.6 Typically, social provisions developed for men and workers are administered at the federal level with standardized rules. In contrast, policies for women and children have been relegated to state administration, permit more extensive evaluation and surveillance, and are assigned based on conceptions of who is considered deserving and who is not—from ascriptive and social characteristics. Lawmaking, economic conditions, and social institutions are often treated as mutually exclusive in the policymaking...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-9731
Print ISSN
1089-0017
Pages
pp. 62-68
Launched on MUSE
2009-12-31
Open Access
No
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