"These are the Ghettos of Washington": Public Housing and Neoliberalization in Tacoma, WA 

Leah Rachel Montange


From 2000-2011, the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) redeveloped a 188-acre worn down, family public housing neighborhood, into a mixed-income neighborhood. This occurred in an area with lagging private investment, and during the Great Recession. I use archival research, interviews, and discourse analysis to investigate this HOPE VI redevelopment process as an instance of actually existing neoliberalism, imbued with local specificities, including regulatory frameworks, political cultures, and housing economies. THA’s promotional literature, and the redevelopment itself produce a particular amalgam of “social justice” and “neoliberal” imaginations and practices that I call “reluctant neoliberalism.” The Tacoma Housing Authority made substantial effort to maximize the amount of low-income housing available through their public/private hybrid neighborhood, and retain property management jobs for their unionized workforce. However, THA also embraced new roles as a developer, as a shaper of self-sufficient neoliberal subjects, and as a public/private hybrid organization. New (racialized, gendered, and class) meanings of subsidized housing residence and the work of a public housing authority have been produced and materialized.