Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Don Mitchell


homeless shelters, housing, property, public policy, urban development

Subject Categories



In 1978 the District of Columbia City Council enacted a measure to tax up to 97 percent of the profits on speculative housing sales. In 1984 the District of Columbia voters approved an initiative to guarantee every resident who needed it access to overnight shelter for every night of the year. Both of these responses to the city's housing crisis marked the beginning of a politically progressive moment in Washington, D.C., when residents won the right to self-governance after a century of Congressional control and the majority-black electorate created a majority-black legislature of civil-right activists. But both laws were made to fail and overturned by the end of 1990. Based on roughly 10 months of archival research and interviews in Washington, D.C., this dissertation examines struggles to access, arrange, and govern residential space from the 1790s to the 1980s, paying particular attention to the last two decades of this period. This dissertation shows how struggles over housing rights in Washington, D.C. contributed to the reproduction of the hegemonic property regime even as the speculation tax and right to shelter contested some of the materialities, discourses, and practices within the socio-spatial order. I find that the intersections between property, racial equality, and democratic governance were central to struggles over urban development and were constituted in ways that hindered effective housing rights formation, enforcement, and protection. Throughout the study, I advance an analysis of the ways in which the social and spatial formation of places like Washington, D.C. are reproduced and challenged through struggles over housing.


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