Homeplace and Housing
in the Lives of Low-Income
Urban African American Families
Linda M. Burton and Sherri Lawson Clark
The purpose of this chapter is twofold. First, we discuss the importance of “homeplace” in the day-to-day lives of low-income urban African American families. Drawing principally on theoretical discussions of place provided by Gieryn (2000), Stack (1996), and hooks (1990), we define the homeplace as a multilayered, nuanced family process anchored in a bounded geographic space that elicits feelings of empowerment, commitment, rootedness, ownership, safety, and renewal among family members (Burton, Winn, Stevenson, & Lawson Clark, 2004). Critical features of the homeplace include social relationships characterized by distinct cultural symbols, meanings, and rituals (Allan & Crow, 1999; Fischer, 1982; Lahiri, 1999). In the context of a defined physical place, these relationships shape individuals' and families' sense of social and cultural identity (Burton, Hurt, Eline, & Matthews, 2001; Franklin, 1997; hooks, 1990).
Second, we describe the issues low-income urban African American families face and the strategies they employ to secure permanent housing to create a homeplace. Securing permanent housing is critical for lowincome African American families because, frequently, it is intertwined with their access to social service programs and their ability to garner and sustain economic security (Gilbert, 1998). When families do not have permanent housing, social service agencies (e.g., job training pro-