Theses Master's

Women Asylum Seekers, Care Infrastructures, and the Violence of Finding Shelter in New York City

Perleche Ugas, Daniela

This research examines how recent immigrant women secure access to housing in New York City amidst a notable shortage of nearly 241,000 homes in New York State (Up for Growth, 2023). This shortage places women asylum seekers in a heightened vulnerability as they seek to secure shelter in the city. Given their ambiguous status, undocumented immigrants, and women particularly, face significant obstacles in acquiring housing, including a lack of financial resources and legal status necessary for completing paperwork, as well as the use of planning tools, such as rental ordinances, to prevent them from easily accessing rental in many neighborhoods around the city (Donato et al. 2008; Flippen 2012; Hall, Greenman, and Farkas 2010; Kaushal 2006; Kossoudji and Cobb-Clark 2002).

By following the stories of 17 asylum seekers who have recently arrived in New York City from Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Nicaragua, I explore the relationship between housing, social reproduction, forced migration, and violence, articulating how housing transcends its basic function as shelter and outlining the different socio-economic, political, and gendered obstacles that hinder recent immigrants' ability to access housing in NYC. Subsequently, the project explores how the precarity of housing/shelter shapes the capacity to maintain and carry out caregiving activities within the city.

This research uses the theoretical lens of “housing as an infrastructure of care” (Power, 2019). Infrastructure of care defines infrastructure as a dynamic pattern that forms the foundation of social organization through the relationship of actors, technologies, and strategies to facilitate care provision. By considering housing not just as a physical structure but as a vital component in the care network, it underscores the role of the home in shaping and being shaped by care practices.

Based on three months of field research, this project analyzes the migration journey of asylum seekers in three stages: first, it examines the drive to migrate due to the breakdown of social reproduction practices in the face of violence, leading to a loss of housing and community support. Secondly, it shows how infrastructures of care allow immigrant women to secure some life for themselves and their families in the city, but at the same time, how these infrastructures are characterized by different forms of violence, including policing, loss of community, or gender violence. Lastly, it assesses how violence infiltrates their living spaces in host countries, turning homes into contested spaces of refuge and constraint, which significantly influences their integration and life-building processes. These social relations of care, while they ensure shelter for these women, ultimately place them in precarious situations.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Bou Akar, Hiba
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2024