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Grounds for Eviction: Race, Mobility, and Policing in the Antelope Valley


This dissertation links research on residential mobility with research on policing and the criminalization of poverty. It does so through a case study of Black movement to Los Angeles’ Antelope Valley through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, a federal housing assistance program that is increasingly replacing public housing and one designed to promote residential mobility and racial integration.

Fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act banning discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, and the publication of the Kerner Commission report urging integration- oriented housing policy, social policy has turned towards residential mobility as a mechanism of combatting segregation and, by extension, racial inequality. Though the effects of mobility programs like vouchers are known to be smaller than expected, less is known about why this might be the case.

I look to the Antelope Valley to examine what voucher experiences there might reveal about this process. Tracing the region’s decades-long history of racial segregation and inequality, I show how racial hierarchy has adapted to changes in laws, racial composition, and economic circumstances. I then illustrate how the Great Recession drove Black voucher movement to the valley over the past decade.

Turning to qualitative findings, I show how Black voucher renters moving to the Antelope Valley are met with racism, economic resentment, and gendered stereotypes in their new communities. This social context of reception is key to understanding the mobility process. I then trace how one local government reflected and encouraged these sentiments by developing policies designed to reverse voucher movement by criminalizing, policing and evicting Black voucher renters in the area. While some of these schemes were abandoned, changes to the municipal code structure that encourage individual policing remain a highly effective mechanism of intimidating, impoverishing, and evicting Black voucher renters. This participatory policing regime, wherein local residents surveil their neighbors and file complaints with municipal code enforcement and other local authorities, illustrates an understudied contemporary mechanism of maintaining segregation. Finally, I show how Black voucher renters interpret, experience, and navigate these conditions, focusing on how they maintain their housing and avoid eviction.

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