Volume 28

Reconceptualizing Public Housing: Not as a Policed Site of Control, but as a System of Support

by Sarah Miller

America’s system of mass incarceration is the product of the over-policing of low-income people of color, often for minor offenses. A critical site of entrenched policing takes place in the public housing context. Public housing residents live under a system of surveillance in which they are constantly monitored and policed. Harsh federal public housing policies – built on racist housing prioritization for whites at the expense of Black communities – are compounded by constitutional jurisprudence justifying outsized police intrusion. Together, these policies and practices work to criminalize public housing residents.

This Note argues that draconian and paternalistic public housing policies and policing practices must be abolished. As harmful drivers of mass incarceration, these policies further entrench poverty and dangerous racialized notions of people living in poverty. American history includes two contrasting stories of public housing: one for white people, involving trust, unquestioned support, and investment, and one for Black people, characterized by distrust, criminalization, and disinvestment. It is long past time that we reconceptualize public housing by applying the same worth to Black residents as has been historically and is still regularly accorded to white residents. This can be done by envisioning public housing not as a site of marginalization and control, but as a system of support that enables mobility and trusts those whom it purports to help.