Abstract: Doubling up to Make Ends Meet: Co-Housing As an Economic Strategy for Undocumented Latinxs (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

150P Doubling up to Make Ends Meet: Co-Housing As an Economic Strategy for Undocumented Latinxs

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Scott, Assistant Professor, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, LA
Background:  Housing instability has come under scrutiny as the number of evictions has risen along with costs of rent. The United States currently faces the deepest inequality since the Great Depression. Economic uncertainty adds fuel to the political rhetoric to policies of immigrant exclusion that increasingly targets Latino immigrants. Still, over 6 million undocumented Latinos make the U.S. their home. In the face of this economic and social exclusion, how do they make ends meet? This study aims to unpack a key economic strategy of undocumented Latinxs, cohousing, to contribute to the discourse on survival strategies and social ties.

Methods: The question of how undocumented Latinos navigate housing and homeownership as their economic repertoire was interrogated using in-depth interviews informed by ethnographic observation. In-depth interviews (n=49) with undocumented Latinos in Austin were collected over three years and supplemented by field notes from interviews with practitioners and participant observation conducted during work at a local organization and community events. I used thematic analysis to structure the interrogation.

Results: Participants reported “cohousing” or sharing living spaces with other adults or families (sometimes, but not always, relatives) as a key strategy to making ends meet. One woman recalled, ”all of our family friends…when I immigrated here I remember we all lived together in one house at once.” For some families this supported their ability to pay the bills and meet basic needs. For other families cohousing was a way to build savings and, ultimately, assets. They also reported sharing a home with many with family as a way to purchase a home. Home buying as a family was not necessarily rare. Several families interviewed reported collaborating on the purchase a home – either a mobile home or house – with other immediate family. Some make this purchase as a collective asset and occupy the home together. These purchases, like that of one woman who decided to purchase a mobile home with her sisters, were both motivated by financial opportunity and life circumstances. In her words, “at that time the three of us were single…we didn’t have families. And so, it was easier to get the money together.” Co-housing arrangements experienced varying degrees of success. Several families had been cohousing for more than a decade, a few owning homes jointly. In these cases other resources, like food and childcare, were also shared.

Conclusions: Findings suggest choices around housing are a key component of undocumented Latinxs strategies to make ends meet. They rely on ties in connection with housing to both satisfy basic needs and start saving for the future. Understanding cohousing as a key economic strategy of undocumented Latinxs and other low-income communities points to the importance of caution when considering policies that regulate overcrowding or prevent residence of multiple families from occupying a single home. Alternatively, ensuring policies are in place that protect families ability to share housing as an economic strategy in tandem with policies that protect people from poor housing conditions could support already vulnerable individuals and families from further marginality.