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Abstract

This thesis will take the reader through three distinct phases of the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) engagement with low-income families seeking federally-assisted housing from 1949 to 1969: the selection process, tenant management, and tenant removal. This structure will allow the reader to understand how the CHA’s classification of “social problem families” posed a significant (and understudied) hardship toward single mothers which permeated every stage of CHA-tenant relations. In the selection phase, the CHA developed ways to classify tenants and predict their likelihood of “benefiting” from public housing. As the pool of tenants continued to widen throughout the 1950s, the CHA developed higher standards of entry for single mothers who failed to adhere to their vision of white, middle-class domesticity. To manage its projects, CHA staff infused their responsibilities as a landlord with a social work agenda. Though their intention was to prepare tenants for a middle-class lifestyle, the effect was a heightened environment of surveillance for single mothers. The practice of home visits deliberately applied domesticity benchmarks to single-parent households. And when management proved to be impossible for certain households, the historically understudied “Ivory Notice” system allowed CHA staff to efficiently remove tenants from public housing.

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