Close Up: Two Stories About Housing and Poverty

Here’s an analysis of two stories from award-winning journalists that cover the intersection between housing and poverty.

Separated by design: Why affordable housing is built in areas with high crime, few jobs and struggling schools (2019)

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas for The Connecticut Mirror 

What’s the story:  Published in 2019, this story is about how policies regulating affordable housing development in Connecticut have contributed to housing segregation. It discusses how the federal government funds affordable housing, how developers in Connecticut make decisions about housing projects, and who is impacted as a result of all these processes. According to the article, federal tax credits to build affordable housing go mostly toward development in historically low-income communities (80%) instead of prosperous areas (10%). While the limitations to areas with affordable housing in Connecticut limit options for low-income families, it also keeps middle-class and wealthier people out, contributing to a cycle of economic stagnancy. 

Why it works: The reporter uses an emotional peg to start, narrating the experience of a single mother in a dangerous neighborhood. The Lugo family represents those deeply affected by this housing segregation crisis and provide context for an important message — while there’s affordable housing, it only exists in impoverished communities. The reporter also interviews senators, development representatives, individuals working in advocacy, and lawmakers, while providing extensive information on the historical context of housing in Connecticut. A timeline of policy intertwined with quotes and narrative ultimately lead the reader back to the characters first introduced. It’s a very long story but it works — the reporter covers all their bases to tell the whole story. 

How to do it: This story was part of a year-long investigation into affordable housing in Connecticut communities. Matching the format of your story to this one isn’t necessary, but it’s important to pay attention to all the sources the reporter included and what part they play in the storytelling process. In your own community, figure out what issues there are regarding affordable housing. Make a list of every person involved in decision making, and every person affected by those decisions. This story can be tackled in longform writing or with multimedia elements. 

Broken (2018)

Erik Castro and Meg McConahey for The Santa Rosa Press Democrat 

Link to the story here

What’s the story: What started as a photo project became a team effort between photojournalist, Castro, and staff reporter for The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, McConahey. The team documented a homeless couple for 14 months, recording the couple’s relationship, attempts to rise out of economic insecurity, and experiences in homeless camps in detail. While the story focuses on one couple, it gives a face to the housing and homelessness crisis in Santa Rosa, California. 

Why it works: The story is written in chronological order, giving readers the chance to follow along with the story in pieces. McConahey’s words and Castro’s visuals work together to tell a comprehensive story — the pieces are complementary, rather than overshadowing. What this story lacks in data or factual analysis it makes up for in first-person narrative uncommon in reports on poverty. 

How to do it: Field work is required. Reporters with more limited experience should contact local homeless shelters or food banks and look for opportunities to interact with people experiencing from economic insecurity or homelessness. More experienced reporters can introduce themselves to economically insecure individuals in their neighborhood or community. 

Sofia Gratas graduated in fall 2020 with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia.

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