Making the Third Ghetto: Race and Family Homelessness in Washington, D.C., 1977–1999

  • Nicole Gipson

Student thesis: Phd


This research project is a historical account of the effects of neoliberal economic, social, and urban development on the making of the third ghetto in African American communities, with a particular focus on homeless families in Washington, D.C. at the end of the twentieth century. Neoliberal policies of the early 1980s and 1990s promoted the deregulation, and marketization of social assistance services, as well as the privatization and commodification of public spaces, which fostered punitive measures that exacerbated the economic and social inequality of precariously-housed communities in general and criminalised street homeless activity in particular. The lack of affordable housing, the destruction of public housing, in addition to structural challenges such as inadequate welfare outlays perpetuated poverty traps and facilitated the creation of welfare hotels – notorious for their deplorable living conditions. Zero-tolerance policing, which sought to make way for the large-scale downtown development projects of the twenty-first century in the District, pushed homeless communities out of coveted public spaces in anticipation of this “Downtown Renaissance.” Analysing the impact of neoliberal policies and practices on housing precarity sheds light on the intersections of the second and the third ghettoes. The second ghetto refers to public housing. The third ghetto pertains to all forms of emergency shelter for the homeless. The emergency shelter system which emerged from urban areas of the mid-1970s, first as a burgeoning, shadow network of services provided by faith-based organizations and homeless advocates, then institutionalized through the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 was Washington, D.C.’s third ghetto. The history of homelessness in Washington, D.C is essentially defined by its ghettoes which were built on the central fault line of race. However, understanding the “new” visible homelessness of this period remains challenging, due to a narrow definition of the “old” homelessness which has traditionally excluded African American alley dwellers who were eventually displaced through slum clearance policies by 1970. Moreover, examining the public housing system of the second ghetto as a gendered space, historicized within the context of the policy paradigm of displacement, dispersal, and demolition, further elucidates the making of the third ghetto in the District, where homeless families were one of the fastest-growing subpopulations of the new homeless era. This study posits that redefining old homelessness along racial lines and re-examining the second ghetto of public housing in terms of race, gender, and housing precarity are essential to understanding the new homelessness of the third ghetto in Washington, D.C.
Date of Award31 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorKerry Pimblott (Supervisor) & David Brown (Supervisor)


  • Homelessness
  • Housing
  • Race
  • Poverty
  • Ghetto

Cite this