Under One Roof: Building an Abolitionist Approach to Housing Justice

On November 6, 2020 the Furman Center and the Journal of Legislation and Public Policy on Friday, hosted a fall symposium titled, "Under One Roof: Building an Abolitionist Approach to Housing Justice."

The event featured two panel discussions with the first panel outlining the key dimensions of abolitionist frameworks and movement-building, while the second panel considered what it might mean to use an abolitionist lens in the evaluation of housing policy, research, and advocacy. Prior to the event, reading materials were circulated to registrants, including an eponymous quorum piece written by NYU Furman Legal Fellow Sophia House and NYU Furman Legal Research Assistant Krystle Okafor.

The symposium began with acknowledgements and framing remarks from JLPP Editor-in-Chief and NYU Furman Research Assistant Chris Shenton. Shenton elaborated on how the legacy of housing policy in the United States is undeniably fraught with discriminatory measures such as segregated public housing, redlining, urban renewal, and more. In light of these factors and the current COVID-19 pandemic, Shenton invited participants to consider how these methods of racial exclusion are exposed in housing policy and decision-making.

Panel 1: Overview of Abolitionist Frameworks (12:30 PM - 1:45 PM ET)
The first panel discussion provided an overview of abolitionist frameworks, and was moderated by Sheryll Cashin, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Civil Rights and Social Justice at Georgetown University.

In response to Cashin’s initial question of what abolition meant to them personally, Jacob Faber answered that abolition means “breaking the link between geography and life outcomes,” Hilary Malson responded that abolition starts with a “freedom dream that requires visioning beyond what is already present,” and Rasheedah Phillips emphasized that there is a temporal dimension to abolition, as it looks forward and backward  simultaneously to correct and repair the past while also creating a new future. The conversation then moved to housing policy through an abolitionist lens. Faber touched on how New Deal housing policies were pivotal in the creation of the segregation that abolition hopes to dismantle. Cashin interjected to ensure there was clarity on what exactly is meant by abolition, saying that “to use this great, aspirational word ‘abolition’ is a plea for something transformative” and how in housing, there is a tension between “radical transformative thinking and data-driven incrementalism.”

Malson and Phillips provided the example of community land trusts as a tangible practice that employs abolitionist principles by decentering private land ownership and focusing on collective community-building. In response to Cashin’s question about their hopes for an abolitionist view of housing going forward, Faber asserted that “the goal should be a society where geography is not destiny” and that different models of understanding property must be employed. Phillips explained the hope she has based on the shifts she’s seen happen on the ground regarding the nuance in conversations about housing and eviction that are happening in the media and in policy.

To conclude the discussion, the audience asked questions on the difference between abolition and anti-racism, whether abolition is at odds with consensus-building, and of the idea of community land trusts as a second-class version of home ownership.

Jacob Faber – Associate Professor, New York University's Wagner School of Public Service and Department of Sociology
Hilary Malson – Urban Planning Doctoral Student, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs
Rasheedah Phillips – Managing Attorney for Housing Policy, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia

Read about the speakers here

Panel 2: Housing Policy Through the Lens of Abolition (2:15 PM - 3:30 PM ET)
The second panel considered what it might mean to take an abolitionist lens to housing policy, research, and advocacy, moderated by Justin Steil, Associate Professor of Law and Urban Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Monica Bell discussed that key aspects of abolition democracy involve a capacious vision of what it takes to complete the project of the abolition of slavery. Amanda Andere elaborated on these points as she defined housing justice, saying that there needs to be repair of the trauma that unhoused populations and other groups marginalized by the housing system have experienced. 

In discussing the foundational conditions necessary to achieve housing justice, Tara Raghuveer highlighted a quote from her maternal grandfather: “Housing shortage is no accident. It’s a necessary part of a social order where private splendor and public squalor is the order of the day. Only forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions will enable us to solve this problem.” For Raghuveer, this quote demonstrated how her definition of abolition democracy is a complete and total end to racial capitalism through the dismantling of oppressive structures and systems. 

Barika Williams added that the reformist lens has been too focused on the things “moving around” in the water while an abolitionist lens is more concerned with the eradication of the water itself. She asserted that “housing justice is economic justice is racial justice” and that it can’t be accomplished through an incrementalist approach. 

When asked about what inspires and gives hope, Andere responded “the streets being louder than the gatekeepers,” Bell talked about the power she’s seeing in organizing, Raghuveer highlighted James Baldwin’s line that “hope is invented every day” as a source of inspiration, and Williams found hope “both in our ancestors and in our future.”


Amanda Andere – CEO, Funders Together to End Homelessness 
Monica Bell – Associate Professor of Law and Associate Professor of Sociology, Yale University 
Tara Raghuveer – Director, KC Tenants 
Barika Williams – Executive Director, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development 

Read about the speakers here.

Reading Materials:

Deborah N. Archer, The New Housing Segregation: The Jim Crow Effects of Crime-Free Housing Ordinances, 118 Mich. L. Rev. 173 (2019).

Monica C. Bell, Safety, Friendship, and Dreams, 54 Harvard Civil Rights- Civil Liberties Law Review (2019).

Monica C. Bell, Anti-Segregation Policing, 95 New York University Law Review 650 (2020).

Sheryll Cashin, Shall We Overcome? "Post-Racialism" and Inclusion in the 21st Century, Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 1694 (2011).

Jacob Faber, Segregation Exacerbated the Great Recession and Hindered Our Policy Response, NYU Furman Center's The Dream Revisited (2016).

Sophie House & Krystle Okafor, Under One Roof: Building an Abolitionist Approach to Housing Justice, N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y Quorum (2020).