Friday, October 23, 2015

How Landlords Contribute to the Concentration of Poverty: Sociology Lecture at WUSTL October 27

Tuesday, October 27 – 11:30, Seigle 170 (conference room in the Weidenbaum Center)
Eva Rosen – Ph.D. Harvard University and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Poverty and
Inequality Research Lab, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
Landlords and the Making of the Third Ghetto

Housing policy has long played an integral role in attempts to dismantle concentrated
poverty and segregation. In the 1930s, ghetto slums were razed and public housing was
built. Sixty years later these towers of the "second ghetto" were demolished, and housing
voucher subsidies promised to harness the power of the private market to remedy
concentrated poverty. In theory, the voucher program should be providing opportunities
for poor households to move to better neighborhoods, but it has fallen far short. This third
era of housing policy introduces a new actor who, as I argue, plays a key role brokering
the geography of opportunity: the landlord. Landlords act as gatekeepers between lowincome
residents and the homes they live in. Yet their role in sorting residents in and out
of neighborhoods remains largely unseen, and un-researched. This paper draws on
ethnographic observation and in-depth interviews with 20 landlords and 82 residents in
Baltimore. Findings show that landlord practices contribute to residential sorting patterns
in three steps. First, selection, in which targeted recruitment tactics favor voucher tenants;
second, a sorting process in which landlords match voucher tenants to hard-to-rent units;
and third, the selective retention of tenants who do not have the means to leave. This
results in a process of “reverse selection," where rather than tenants choosing homes and
neighborhoods, landlords are selecting tenants. Together, these practices help landlords
keep voucher holders trapped in units that deliver the biggest profits, in some of the very
neighborhoods the voucher is supposed to afford them the opportunity to escape.
Landlord practices and the policies that support them serve as a powerful mechanism in

the concentration of poverty.