House or Home: Nuclear Family Construction and Federal Housing Policy Development
Fritz, Marie Justine
The federal government's complicity in racial discrimination in the development and administration of housing policy has been well documented, but the government's role in reproducing gendered federal housing policies in the United States has been largely unrecognized in the political science literature. I argue that United States 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. Contemporary household regulation is the culmination of a gradual process of state-building during which the state came to define and regulate the nuclear, heterosexual family. Nuclear family hegemony began during the interwar period and was institutionalized under the New Deal, became naturalized from the 1950s to the 1970s 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. The system of separate benefits for nuclear families and non-traditional households that was established decades earlier made public and subsidized housing ripe for attack in a growing culturally conservative atmosphere. The HOPE VI program and the decision in HUD v. Rucker represent various ways in which the government implicated family in its attempts to regulate the homes of low-income, non-traditional households that are often headed by minority single and elderly women. Although current housing policies reflect changed policy commitments from multiple administrations, present access to housing remains family-composition specific. Nuclear family hegemony serves to reify distinctions based on sex; it incorporated women's economic dependence as an essential component of housing finance and endorsed a single standard for what a good family looked like. In drawing boundaries around citizenship through federal housing policy, the state helped to define the very meaning of family in America.