Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Leisa D Meyer


During the second half of the twentieth century, scholars and journalists documented the failures of the public housing program in the United States with a range of studies focusing on the Midwest and East. Problems such as displacement, criminal activity, high vacancy rates, racial segregation, and the isolation of tenants informed critiques of federally-subsidized housing for low-income families. These aspects contributed to the national image of "the projects" as high-rise ghettos, populated primarily by African Americans, and located in run-down areas. Public housing with its position at the crossroads of national, state, and local politics and policies as well as tenants' varied experiences, however, defy simple categorization as an unmitigated failure.;This study expands the history of public housing to the West and in doing so complicates the image of where public housing is located, what it looks like, and who lives there. Examining public housing in San Francisco, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, politically liberal city, reveals the important role regional, local and spatial politics play in project design, location, and population. The three projects examined here, Ping Yuen in Chinatown, North Beach Place in North Beach, and Valencia Gardens in the Mission District, are located in thriving urban areas near public transportation, shops, and hospitals. Nevertheless, tenants over the years experienced a range of difficulties including mismanagement and racial segregation by the San Francisco Housing Authority, rising crime rates, in-fighting, and at Valencia Gardens and North Beach, the scorn of district neighbors. Despite these challenges, many tenants came together to form communities. Coming across racial and ethnic lines, tenants relied on formal and informal networks to make their rental apartments into "homes." Demonstrating part of the hidden history of public housing, tenants at Ping Yuen, North Beach Place, and Valencia Gardens became politicized by living in the projects and challenged the state to improve their living environments. These case studies highlight public housing's contribution to the affordable housing stock and tenants' roles in making the projects livable spaces.



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