Carceral connections: The role of policing in the management of public housing in New York City

Carceral connections: The role of policing in the management of public housing in New York City


Written by:

James Rodriguez

First Published:

20 Jul 2023, 10:29 am


Carceral connections: The role of policing in the management of public housing in New York City

Growing up in New York City public housing, I lived at the intersection of policing and gentrification. As I navigated the daily reality of austerity and hyper-policing in public housing within the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood of the Lower East Side, I turned towards collective organising to amplify resident voices and enact change. This article, too, is an extension of that effort, with my experience in tenant organising spaces informing my scholarly analysis of public housing and policing policies and their implementation. I show that the threat of gentrification is not just for residents of private housing. Residents of public housing, too, are vulnerable to forms of tenant harassment and eviction. Policing and public housing policies in New York have created a cumulative gentrification effect on residents, facilitating displacement and private redevelopment in public housing communities. 


In “Carceral connections: The role of policing in the management of public housing in New York City”, I investigate the police and housing policies in New York City’s massive stock of public housing between 2006 and 2023. Specifically, I examine vertical patrols, the police practice of deploying officers throughout the interior of public housing communities, and Permanent Exclusion, the housing authority’s internal policy of banning residents or guests due to alleged criminal activity, carried out in partnership with the police department. I analyse these distinct police and housing policies in tandem to uncover the combined impacts of what is tantamount to systematic tenant harassment by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). This harassment triggers eviction and displacement from public housing by the housing authority – a striking parallel to the harassment-induced displacement occurring in private housing in conventionally gentrifying neighbourhoods. I also examine the ways the NYPD and carceral imperatives have been embedded within privatisation efforts initiated by the housing authority since 2006. Policing is built into plans for private sector conversions and redevelopment of public housing, making it clear that not only is state-led gentrification underway for the city’s public housing, but also that police are significant stakeholders in the process in ways that undermine resident’s housing security and organising, tap public funds from the housing authority, and shape housing policy.


Ultimately,Carceral connectionspoints to the entrenched relationships between police and public housing policy in New York City. The consistent inclusion of police within gentrifying public housing reform plans are also indicative of the enduring relationships between police and urban development more generally, and within racialised communities in particular. My findings illustrate the deep combined impacts of what at first glance appear to be distinct policing and housing policies. Although my article is based on analysis of public housing and policing in New York City, this connection is crucial for understanding public housing and urban development across the United States and beyond. The entanglement of policing and urban housing is especially pertinent in the context of contemporary housing crisis across US cities, and the corresponding divestment from public housing in favour of inflating police budgets and privatising the public housing sector. The expansive role of the state in producing gentrification outside of the private housing market in the US has not received sufficient attention from scholars, and we would do well to catch up to the analysis of resident activists who are living the realities of public housing gentrification.


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.