Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Meeting the Needs of Mothers and Families? Family Self-Sufficiency Programs and Goals of Homeownership

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Meeting the Needs of Mothers and Families? Family Self-Sufficiency Programs and Goals of Homeownership

Article excerpt

The theoretical and conceptual connections between homeownership and economic self-sufficiency are complicated. Generally, families are able to become homeowners because they are economically self-sufficient (Shlay, 1994). Economic self-sufficiency is typically defined as economic independence from government or family assistance (Shlay, 1994). An important goal of this study was to uncover what being "economically self-sufficient" means to these low income women. This study also attempted to determine whether or not women consider homeownership to be an important part of economic self-sufficiency. Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) programs are designed to help low income families reach their self-sufficiency goals, including homeownership (Rohe & Watson, 2007). It is therefore important to examine low income families' experiences while enrolled in these programs because programs such as these may be their only chance for economic independence and a better quality of life.

For low income families, homeownership may be the catalyst for achieving economic independence over the long term (Shlay, 1994; Rohe & Watson, 2007). Promoting homeownership as a tool for economic independence is not new; homeownership has been central in housing policy since the Great Depression (Shlay, 1994). Homeownership is one of the most commonly discussed goals associated with achieving the American Dream (Shlay, 1994; Rohe and Watson, 2007). This may explain why the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the majority of Americans (68.2 %) owned homes in 2007 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2007). It should come as no surprise, then, that many low income families are striving for the same dreams of economic independence as other Americans - not only the opportunity to be economically independent but also to purchase their own homes.

However, the pursuit of economic self-sufficiency and homeownership for low income women of color and their families is complicated by the presence of personal- and system-level barriers which operate simultaneously (Lindhorst Everhardt, 2009). Existing literature (e.g., Edin & Lein, 1997; Ehrenreich, 2001) has focused on women's personal, organizational, and societal barriers separately rather than how women's personal- and system-level barriers intersect with one another making barriers more difficult for women to overcome. Although personal-level barriers should be viewed separately from system-level barriers, both are equally important in explaining the hardships that low income women and their families experience in striving for economic self-sufficiency and/or homeownership. This study used data from 24 in-depth interviews to better understand what barriers low income women and their families face as they attempt to reach economic self-sufficiency, as well as whether homeownership was one of their economic self-sufficiency goals, and how they experienced being part of a FSS program. Six of the 24 narratives are discussed in detail in this article, and these narratives provide a window into the lives of low-income mothers in my sample.

Intersectionality is the conceptual framework for this study and data analysis followed phenomenological methods of inquiry (Creswell, 1998). Intersectionality is used not only as a theoretical framework in this study, but also as an analytical tool by which the interconnectedness of barriers and social locations are examined. Intersectionality theory argues that the effects and experiences of gender, race, class and other categorical differences cannot be understood separately from one another; each of these categories shape people's experiences and life outcomes (Weber, 2001; Davis, 2008). Intersectionality theory was originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) to encourage feminist and anti-racist scholars to recognize all women's experiences and not simply those of white, middle class women (Simien, 2007; Davis, 2008). In other words, scholars must recognize that women experience life in varying ways because of their multiple social locations and social contexts. …

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