Beckman Fellow 2008-09

Ruby Mendenhall


Mendenhall imageHousing Policies and Economic mobility: Chicago's Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program

Nationwide, policymakers have struggled with questions of how best to invest housing resources to improve the life chances of low-income families. Should communities be developed through incentive programs such as enterprise and empowerment zones? Or should residents be offered more ways out of resource-scarce communities by strengthening fair housing laws and funding mobility programs? During her Center appointment, Professor Mendenhall will complete three papers in this area, continuing her research with the Gautreaux Assisted Housing Program in Chicago.

The Gautreaux program resulted from a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Chicago Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The court authorized an expansive remedy that desegregated public housing in Chicago. By 1998, more than 7,100 African-American families had relocated to new neighborhoods throughout the six-county Chicago metropolitan area.

In her first paper, Professor Mendenhall will examine how context and social structures have shaped social and economic outcomes over three generations of Gautreaux families. She will use life-course theoretical concepts of agency and the importance of historical time and place to look closely at how the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement, the postindustrial era, and various housing policies influenced educational and employment outcomes for Gautreaux participants, their parents (the majority of whom migrated from the South), and their children.

Her second paper will discuss the role of social networks in providing Gautreaux participants with information about jobs. Here, she will use intersectional analysis and social capital as theoretical frameworks. A third paper will analyze unemployment insurance wage data for the Gautreaux participants and their children. It will look at the relationship between moving to various neighborhoods and participants' mobility out of the lowest income quintiles. All three studies will help to describe how various housing policies influence the affected families’ economic mobility.