Methodology & Timeline

Unlike purely numerical data collection or written accounts, a spatial survey makes it possible to quickly recognize spatial limitations placed on families at risk, and where pressure points tend to occur in the home. Interviews and drawings will account for stress factors such as overcrowding, physical building deficiencies, provisional childcare, and other living, working and sleeping arrangements that contribute to home stress. It also considers measures taken by families to mitigate stress. Qualitative research outcomes would lend granularity and household-level nuance to existing quantitative demographic studies, such as recently published Fifth Ward survey data from the Kinder Institute’s Houston Community Data Connections (HCDC) Dashboard.

This spatial survey seeks to document key home pressures (and resilience measures) that have emerged in vulnerable communities over the stay-at-home period (officially March 24 to April 3, 2020, extended to June 10, 2020), and to rapidly identify which ones are likely to persist into the immediate future, even after home restrictions are lifted and the economy is reopened. [1] With the help of the Center for Urban Transformation, we conducted 45-minute home video interviews with a pilot sample of sixteen low-income households in the Greater Fifth Ward, Harris County. This report contains plans, maps, and survey analysis that spatially represent residents’ experiences based on these interviews. In efforts to minimize identifying information, pseudonyms have been used, site plans have been drawn more generically, and addresses, age, race and ethnicity data have been omitted. Interview questions have considered the following stress factors.

Stay-at-home Stress Factors: What changed during COVID-19?
Site & Demographics
Site configuration
Access to essential services
Access to utilities
Neighborhood noise & safety
Housing type & layout
Household makeup
Ability to work from home
Employment & rent status

Physical building conditions
Repair & maintenance
Indoor temperature
Home organization
Storage & supplies
Presence of pests
Access to private outdoor space
Overcrowding (Persons Per Room) [2]
Privacy & noise
Child care, home education
Temporary furniture setups
Day/night use of spaces
Disability requirements
External care, visitors, pets
COVID social distancing

6-Month Timeline:

Planning (1 Month)

Engage Center for Urban Transformation (CUT)
Identify volunteer participants
Finalize interview questions
Finalize interview dates

Interviews (3 Months)

Conduct 45-minute video interviews
(via Google Duo, Zoom)
Transcribe interviews
Translate video footage into plan drawings
Follow-up calls to check drawings
Production (2 Months)

Produce spatial survey & findings
for web and print publication
Community review
Project closeout
Assess potentials for future research

By visualizing spatial inequality issues unfolding at the domestic scale, this documentation project pinpoints specific ways in which stay-at-home orders have unequally impacted the way economically distressed families live. Its illustrated format helps housing organizations and researchers understand how spatial insecurities were already built into homes pre-pandemic, and where future funding may be allocated for immediate relief. Recommendations could also help high-stress households prepare for home life after the pandemic, which for many will involve prolonged unemployment, childcare space constraints and environmental stresses.

[1] On June 11, Harris County issued a COVID-19 Threat Level system, a a color-coded dial indicating  current COVID-19 risk levels and actions from 1 (Severe: Stay Home Work Safe) to 4 (Minimal: Resume Normal Contacts). At the time of writing, the needle points toward 1. See "COVID-19 County Judge Orders," Harris County Commissioners Court Agenda, link, and "COVID-19 Data Dashboards," Harris County Public Health, link.

[2] The Persons Per Room metric included in each interview is the household size divided by the number of finished rooms in the dwelling. The American Community Survey’s definition of finished rooms includes bedrooms, kitchens, living, dining, and recreation spaces. Open-plan living/dining with unenclosed kitchens are counted as a single room. This excludes bathrooms, laundries, utility rooms, garages and unenclosed porches. Drawing from a 2007 HUD report, a PPR of >1.00 indicates overcrowding and >1.50, severe overcrowding. Note that a high overcrowding score does not necessarily correlate with stress levels, given the diverse family structures and living preferences of participants. Here, the metric is used simplly to give some base level of comparison across differently sized households.