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Public Policy and Administration


Linda Day


A persistent gap exists between established federal, state, and local standards for housing habitability and the condition of rental housing. The condition persists despite local code enforcement mechanisms, leaving significant potential to improve housing. Such housing can have adverse impacts on people's physical and mental health, economic stability, education, crime, community development, and municipal budgets. The purpose of this case study was to identify factors that create and perpetuate the problem, make it difficult to resolve, and to identify policy actions with the potential to help mitigate it. Rational choice theory and public choice theory formed the framework to analyze motivations and behaviors of policy makers, policy enforcers, policy influencers, and renters who are affected by policy. Data were collected through 23 semi-structured interviews with city officials, property owners, local housing advocates, low-income renters, investigative reporters, and legal aid attorneys. Interview data were open coded and subjected to a thematic analysis. Themes emerging from the study include lack of accountability for owners and renters, barriers to adequate local code enforcement, financial and investment practices that place properties into the hands of owners who fail to maintain them, historical influences related to construction practices and changing ownership patterns, broader costs to families and the community, and external influences related to economic and demographic trends. The positive social change implications stemming from this study include recommendations for policy makers to address factors that create and perpetuate this type of housing, strengthen code enforcement, and ensure habitable housing for all citizens regardless of their income.

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