Housing is a basic human necessity that can unlock access to improved health and wellbeing, including sense of belonging to place. But rapid urbanization means that, globally, over a billion people face inadequate or insecure housing conditions. As a result, the United Nations has made the idea of housing security a central part of its current “new urban rights” agenda. However, there is no standard international definition of housing security. Nor is there a sophisticated understanding of how migrants – who often drive urbanization – experience housing insecurity. For example, it is unclear how legal status, or the expanded role of Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) affects the security of housing for migrants. This international collaboration builds knowledge of housing security by looking at the experiences of urban migrants, a group we define as persons who were born outside of, and have been living in an urban area for less than a year.
We have four objectives. Our first objective is to deepen understanding of migrant housing security by examining how legal status and the activities of FBOs affect place – specific levels of precarity. Our second objective is to develop a neighborhood-based Index of Housing Security for Migrants with stakeholders. The third objective is to translate our enhanced conceptual and empirical knowledge into better policy. Our fourth objective is to improve the quality of public engagement about housing for migrants.
This 30-month project conducts a comparative analysis of housing security in two case-study neighborhoods in Hong Kong, Atlanta, and Pretoria (six total). These are key urban areas to study because they have difficult housing issues, distinct definitions of migrant legal status, and diverse and influential FBOs. Using the Participatory Action Research method we recruit a Steering Group (SG) in each urban area to gain stakeholder inputs from government, FBOs, the property sector, long-term residents and migrants. Primary data are collected using semi-structured interviews with 30 migrants and 6 FBOs in each urban area. These data are analyzed to build grounded theory and calculate initial values of the Index. We then re-calibrate and standardize this Index on the basis of focus groups with migrants, FBOs, and government representatives.
Research outputs include scholarly articles, policy briefs, and opinion pieces. Involving local stakeholders in the research design and execution increases public engagement with debates about housing rights and migration. We also offer research experience to undergraduates and, by reflecting on their work, develop new curricula materials on participatory research methods. The research has a long term impact upon the international understanding of migrant housing issues under continuing urbanization.