Speaker connects poor families, neighborhoods

Suah Lee

Johns Hopkins sociology professor Stefanie DeLuca visited Northwestern on Monday for a workshop entitled “Why Poor Families Live in Poor Neighborhoods: Residential Mobility, Neighborhood Selection and Housing Policy” in Parkes Hall.

The workshop was organized by NU’s sociology department. About 20 faculty, staff and students attended the workshop to discuss urban poverty and housing policies.

DeLuca explained how the social context – domestic violence, inspection failures, etc. – forces poor families to move and be stuck in substandard housing.

“I think she brought up a good idea of looking at landlords and other structural factors,” said Jennifer Byrd, a SESP graduate student in the Higher Education Administration and Policy Program.

Most poor families do not choose to live in high-poverty neighborhoods, said DeLuca, who graduated from NU with a Ph.D. in human development and social policy in 2002. Her current research focuses on the sociology of education, urban sociology, neighborhoods and social inequality.

DeLuca said because poor families lack renting and buying experience and have low expectations, they tend to focus on individual blocks and housing units rather than the quality of the whole neighborhood.

The workshop was based on research that DeLuca conducted in the summer of 2009, when DeLuca went to Mobile, Ala., and interviewed more than 100 families in high-poverty neighborhoods. More than 18.6 percent of Mobile residents earn income below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

DeLuca urged researchers to recognize problems in current social programs and approach housing problems more directly.

“Don’t just get rid of them, hide them under the carpet and control them statistically,” DeLuca said. “Let’s get messy, get into it, see what family lives are and what it is that we can do, if anything.”

Molly Metzger, a SESP graduate student studying human development and social policy, said while sociologists often think new social programs should work, in reality those programs often fail.

“We easily assume what’s good for people and necessarily don’t understand what their housing selection processes are,” Metzger said. “Researchers like DeLuca are the one who bridge that gap.”

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