Affordable Housing: A Long History

Shelter is an essential need, but has never been a human right in American society. Instead, housing is a commodity left largely – though not entirely – to the market. Moreover, housing policies in the U.S. have often had the effect of dividing Americans by race or class, rather than uniting us. This seminar will explore the problem of affordable housing in American history, starting in the 19th century. Readings, a lecture, and discussions will range widely, engaging the following topics: progressive reform efforts to improve housing conditions; utopian ideas to house the masses; federal policies that supported homeownership but also led to segregation and massive disparities in wealth; public housing’s rise and fall in the U.S. (especially in Chicago); and current thinking on affordable housing in the 21st century. We will interrogate these topics through the lenses of race, class, and gender as we examine various policies and cultural norms.