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Title: Ghanaians in the Bronx : (il)legal status and pathways to housing
Author: Usman, Mohammad
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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How does legal status shape access to housing? This research explores the housing journeys of Ghanaian migrants in the borough of the Bronx in New York City to answer that question. The aim of this research is to understand the processes by which poor documented and undocumented migrants access housing, and to uncover the hidden, informal sub-markets that they occupy. Data were collected over a 14-month period of fieldwork, through 2014 and 2015, using a mixed methods approach. Quantitative data were drawn from secondary datasets and qualitative data were obtained from in-depth interviews with migrants, housing providers, and intermediaries. This study adapts urban informality theory by adjoining it with the concepts of migrant enclaves, social capital, and survival strategies. Urban informality describes informal settlements in the Global South that arise due to suspended sovereignty, where the state allows settlements to form to facilitate rapid urbanisation at minimal institutional cost. Urban informality occurs in the Bronx differently than in the Global South: migrants do not construct housing but rather obtain units on the formal market that they then sublet on their own informal market. Complicit actors, including profit-seeking providers and indifferent public authorities, allow this informal market to form. The findings show that, surprisingly, legal status is not an organizing framework in the housing market. Rather, the strength of one's social ties to the Ghanaian migrant community strongly determines how housing is accessed. For instance, undocumented migrants report better housing outcomes (lower rents and higher satisfaction) compared to their documented counterparts because they have more robust connections to other migrants. The only migrant group that can overcome weak social network ties and still readily access affordable housing are unmarried female Ghanaian migrants, as they are desired as household labourers and potential spouses. This research further finds that documented and undocumented migrants are similar in one important respect, they resist support from public institutions: housing courts, social service agencies, and elected representatives. This stems from pervasive myths and misinformation regarding government: migrants tend to believe that public authorities seek to deport them or otherwise prohibit their families from immigrating to the U.S., and that they only truly serve Hispanics, who are in the majority in the Bronx. This results in avoidable impoverishment, particularly among documented migrants who decline to seek public benefits to which they are legally qualified and entitled. This study contributes to knowledge with its empirical findings, methodology, and theoretical developments. The findings deepen our understanding of poor migrant communities residing in the Global North, and the implications of legal status for housing access. The methodology provides a novel approach for uncovering and examining allocation processes in hidden markets. The adapted urban informality model gives new theoretical insights into the relationship between formality and informality, which has further applications in housing studies and urban economics.
Supervisor: Burgess, Gemma ; Oxley, Michael Sponsor: Gates Cambridge Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Urban informality ; Housing ; Ghanaians