Obsolescence and the Transformation of Public Housing Communities in the US

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The United States is in the midst of transforming its system of public housing. It is argued that the transformation reflects both the political obsolescence of the New Deal social welfare approach to housing as well as the physical obsolescence of the social housing itself. This effort is strongly tied to the neoliberal turn of the 1980s that discredited state-centered approaches to policy making embodied in large social housing estates. The physical obsolescence of social housing is partially the result of the contemporary disdain for modernist architecture and partially the result of mismanagement of the physical assets of social housing over time. Racial dynamics have heavily influenced the social impacts of transformation, leading to a disproportionate impact on African-Americans as well as limiting the deconcentration of subsidized households hoped for by advocates. The place impacts of social housing transformation have been significant, both benefitting from and reinforcing patterns of gentrification and reinvestment in American cities during the 1990s and up to the recession of 2007.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-345
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Housing Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Public housing
  • demolition
  • redevelopment


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