Grant Funds Syracuse Housing Research
associate professor of sociology at the Maxwell School, is part of a
three-member team that has received a $350,000 grant from the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation to investigate how building local power among tenants can
enhance community health and well-being.
grant is provided by the foundation’s Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL)
program, a highly competitive national leadership program that promotes
action-oriented and community-engaged research. The funding will cover an
annual stipend for each team member as well as a one-time research award of
$125,000 and mentorship from national experts in research, community action,
health equity, public policy and advocacy.
In addition to Purser,
the research team includes Jamila Michener, associate professor of government
at Cornell University, and Palmer Harvey, founder of and organizer with the
Syracuse Tenants Union.
Their project, titled
“Building Power for Community Health: A Study of Tenant Organizing in Syracuse,
N.Y.,” will investigate how building power through the tenants union helps to
achieve concrete improvements in housing conditions for poor and predominantly
Black families in the Syracuse community.
“We define power as the
ability to influence the processes and institutions that shape the
circumstances of one's life and environment,” explains Purser. “We ask how
power can be developed and wielded to improve health in marginalized
They will also examine
how building power among tenants can help mitigate processes and mechanisms
through which policies, practices and programs uphold structural racism in
housing. And, they will explore how local political participation in the
tenant's union leads to improvements in mental health through diminished
feelings of isolation and resignation and an increased sense of collective
efficacy as political agents.
Housing is the focus of
the research because, Purser says, it is an “enduring channel through which
structural racism has shaped outcomes in Syracuse.” Confronted with an
imbalance of power, tenants experience substandard housing, lead poisoning,
predatory renting arrangements, evictions and more, she adds.
Purser also serves as research director on activism and advocacy
for the Maxwell School’s Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict
and Collaboration (PARCC). Her research and teaching focuses on work and labor
market transformation, the housing struggles of the urban poor and the policies
and practices of poverty management in the U.S. She received a Ph.D. in sociology
from University of California at Berkeley.