Beyond efficiency in low-income housing provision

Everyday negotiations of nonprofit staff and the limits to caring through marketized housing in Buffalo, New York

Gillian Prater-Lee

Published in Issue 4.2 // The Long Read

Keywords: Housing, home, care ethics, nonprofit industrial complex, Buffalo


This paper analyzes how conflicting understandings of housing – housing as a commodity, a financial asset, a human right, and/or a form of service provision – coalesce in and are negotiated by nonprofit organizations that oversee low-income housing in Buffalo, New York. Critically analyzing nonprofit organizations as sites where discourses about housing come into conflict, I argue that the work of nonprofit staff materializes into the conditions of the contemporary system of housing provision and these organizations are important sites of everyday resistance to the marketization of low-income housing in the US. Through an institutional ethnography, I track how nonprofit workers fill the gaps in the private housing market in meeting the housing needs of low-income households. I also show how the marketization of low-income housing constrains nonprofit workers’ ability to enact a politics of housing as a right or a form of care. I look to the literature of feminist care ethics to argue that a broader, communal, and embodied understanding of housing provision could provide an alternative, non-marketized basis for a more just housing system – but one that must necessarily exceed the contemporary housing system.

Gillian Prater-Lee is a recent graduate of the Department of Geography at Pennsylvania State University. Their research interests relate to housing justice social movements, particularly in post-industrial cities, the nonprofit industrial complex, and intentional communities. This paper draws on research completed for their Master’s thesis at Penn State. Currently, Gillian lives in Cleveland, Ohio and is active in local housing justice community organizing and the Cleveland Catholic Worker.

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