Category Archives: Housing Discrimination
An interview with Shanti Abedin from the National Fair Housing Alliance examining how Banks are maintaining the homes they own in different neighborhoods.
Many neighborhoods in America today still lack racial and ethnic diversity. In some of these communities, the differences between neighborhoods is so stark, it seems like they are segregated. In addition to the racial/ethnic differences, there often exist dramatic economic disparities. Some neighborhoods feel like completely different parts of the world.
Given how much progress America has made on race issues, some people assume that this type of segregation must exist because people choose to live separately, that segregation is a preference. But research tells a different story.
The reality is that even though African-Americans prefer highly integrated neighborhoods, they still end up living in segregated communities, regardless of income or even after moving. In one survey conducted in Long Island, New York, almost 70% of African-Americans surveyed stated they preferred an integrated community. Studies indicate that if given the economic opportunities, African-American families formerly in public housing will move into more integrated areas and live there for years.
Part of the reason behind US segregation comes from the fact that African-Americans still experience pervasive housing discrimination, including but not limited to predatory lending, racial steering, and discrimination based on credit. Racial steering is when a lender or real estate agent specifically shows families housing in different neighborhoods based on their race or ethnicity.
Unfortunately, these patterns of segregation are affecting other ethnic minorities. Latino Americans are, by and large, also concentrated in minority neighborhoods. The most troubling pattern is that often these neighborhoods are suffering from disinvestment and lack important tools for economic growth such as quality public schools. Some may claim African-Americans and Latinos have a tendency to clump near family members, but studies show education and services are both higher priorities. There are opportunities for improving public education by reducing segregated housing patterns. Segregated communities are often not satisfied with the quality of their schools. Other studies indicate how segregated public schools and universities reinforce the idea of racially segregated neighborhoods.
What continues these patterns of residential segregation despite the desire of residents to live in diverse communities? Lack of knowledge about inclusive and diverse neighborhoods, in addition to aversion to integrated areas seems to fuel this residential segregation. There is evidence to suggest that the neighborhood preferences of Caucasian Americans play an important role in their neighborhoods’ racial composition. There is also evidence to show that communities experience racial blind spots. African and Latino Americans are more likely to know about highly segregated and integrated communities but not as much about majority white neighborhoods; Caucasian Americans are not likely to know about integrated communities, even when integrated communities are predominantly white.
As advocates for inclusive and economically vibrant communities, we need to close the ignorance gap regarding mixed income communities. Part of this means addressing misconceptions about affordable housing. Affordable housing can be a scary term, but it simply means having a wide range of housing options for all of the regions residents and work force. Improving the affordability of a community does not dramatically lower the property values of surrounding neighborhoods.
As a nation, we have come a long way in combating discrimination. Unfortunately, the journey is not over, housing discrimination still exists even though market demand tells us that people want to live in inclusive and diverse neighborhoods. A commitment to community integration requires us to address the persistent prejudice, ignorance and mistrust people hold about different racial and ethnic groups. Making this commitment is the first step towards creating the vibrant neighborhoods where we want to live.
 Maria Krysan & Reynolds Farley, The Residential Preferences of Blacks: Do They Explain
Persistent Segregation?, 80 SOC. FORCES, 937-80 (2002)
 Stefanie DeLuca & Peter Rosenblatt, Walking Away from “The Wire”: Residential Mobility and Opportunity in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins University, Working Paper, 2010).
 Stefanie DeLuca & Peter Rosenblatt, Walking Away from “The Wire”: Residential Mobility and Opportunity in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins University, Working Paper, 2010).
 Margery Turner & Stephen Ross, How Racial Discrimination Affects the Search for Housing, in THE GEOGRAPHY OF OPPORTUNITY at 81-100 (Xavier de Souza Briggs ed., 2005)
 Pat Rubio Goldsmith, Learning Apart, Living Apart: How the Racial and Ethnic Segregation of 8 Schools and Colleges Perpetuates Residential Segregation, 112 Tchrs. C. Rec. 1605-1606 (2010).
 Keith Ihlanfeldt & Benjamin Scafidi, Whites’ Neighborhood Racial Preferences and Neighborhood Racial Composition in the United States: Evidence from the Multi-City Study of Inequality, 19 HOUSING STUDIES 325, 325-359 (2004).
 Maria Krysan, Confronting Racial “Blind Spots” POVERTY &RACE (2008), http://www.prrac.org/full_text.php?text_id=1193&item_id=11275&newsletter_id=101&header=Housing&kc=1.
As any homebuyer or renter knows, purchasing a new place to live is a multi-step process. But a lesser known truth about this common practice was recently released in a study from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD study findings confirm that you, as a consumer, can fall victim to racial housing discrimination at any point during the browsing and purchasing or renting of a new home, from the first phone call to the sale itself. HUD’s release from more than 8,000 fair housing tests conducted across the country indicates that although blatant discrimination in the advertising and sale of homes may be on the decline, more subtle forms persist with equal consequences to the housing consumer.
Searching For a Home
Before the first showing, homebuyers peruse the availability of homes in their preferred area. Throughout the country, testers found that when contacting agents about advertised residences for sale, black homebuyers learned about roughly 17.0 percent fewer housing availabilities than their white counterparts, and were “shown 17.7 percent fewer homes.”
The First Call: Scheduling an Appointment & Pre-Qualification Process
The 2013 HUD study showed significant disparities in the initial contact between buyer and REALTOR along racial lines, even when it came to sensing racial background over the phone. According to HUD, black “renters whose race is readily identifiable based on name and speech are significantly more likely to be denied an appointment than minorities perceived to be white.” During an in-person visit, renters who are identifiably black “are shown fewer units than minorities who are perceived to be white”. Similarly, homebuyers who are identifiably black…“face higher discrimination during the in-person visit than those who are perceived to be white.”
Significant numbers of testers in certain metro areas (including the Richmond, VA region) were repeatedly denied appointments by housing providers because they had not yet been prequalified. The report cites a case where the black tester called and spoke with an agent who insisted that she must be prequalified in order to see homes. He refused to meet with her until she had talked to a lender. The white tester was not asked about prequalification over the phone, and made an appointment to meet with the agent.
For example, field testers in certain metropolitan areas were so consistently denied appointments based on lack of pre-qualifications that HUD had to grant testing organizations permission to use qualifying dollar amounts over the phone just to schedule a first meeting. These nine localities included
Albuquerque, N.M.; Atlanta, Ga.; Chicago, Ill.; Dallas, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Greensboro, N.C.; Miami, Fla.; Washington, D.C. and our own Richmond, Va.
The First Meeting & Showing the House
A significant racial divide was also found when testers first met with real estate agents and were shown houses. In terms of variety of neighborhoods shown, national trends indicate that more homes and apartments are communicated and shown to white homeseekers than to racial minorities. HUD reports that
“agents spend more time with white homeseekers than with equally qualified blacks” and that “in about two-thirds of in-person visits, one tester is shown more units than his or her partner, with whites significantly more likely to be favored than blacks.”
Even an agent’s description of a neighborhood can be tinged with discriminatory language. The report states that:
“whites hear more positive comments about white neighborhoods and more negative comments about minority neighborhoods than do blacks, potentially steering them away from mixed or minority neighborhoods.”
Minority home buyers sometimes experience other forms of discriminatory treatment as well, relating to housing costs and financing, housing quality, and the helpfulness of the sales agent. These differences are less consistent and smaller in magnitude than the differences in numbers of homes available and shown.
But one particularly potent finding from the 2013 study may be the most unsettling – these disturbing trends only amplify when particular cities and towns (localities) are put under the magnifying glass, particularly urban areas.
The unfortunate truth is that even after sale, discrimination can occur during a buyer or renter’s time at their residence, and on bases of a variety of different “protected classes” other than race. The study itself cites the limitation that:
“results reported here probably understate the total level of discrimination that occurs in the marketplace… (and) do not capture all the forms of discriminatory treatment that minority home seekers may experience.”
HUD even indicates that the extent of housing discrimination faced by “minority home seekers with lower incomes, less wealth, weaker English language fluency, or blemished credit” may extend to levels beyond those actually reported this year.
We need to do more. To stop these disparities, it is paramount that buyers, renters and housing industry professionals are educated in fair housing practices.
Enforcement is still a necessity, as HUD states:
“Prejudice has by no means disappeared….minorities still face significant barriers to [their] housing search, even when they are well-qualified as renters or home buyers.”
A strong method to enforce fair housing laws is to have local fair housing organizations increase their proactive testing of the housing industry (the sales market more so than rentals). Another proactive step is to research what specific localities and neighborhoods are experiencing these discriminatory housing practices, in order to pinpoint areas where investigations could really make a difference. Reinvesting in neighborhoods to create equal access to services and encourage diversity is another long-term method to reduce these detrimental disparities facing minority home seekers, renters and owners. It is for these reasons that fair housing organizations like HOME fight for equal opportunity to housing for all, through fair housing policy change, education and enforcement.
A Fair Chance in the Economy is Humanly Possible
George Mason University Economics Professor Don Boudreaux wrote recently: “I do not in the least care about income (or wealth) inequality.”
This seems a pretty bold and heartless statement, but he clarifies:
“I care – very deeply – whether the process for pursuing one’s life’s goals is fair or not. I want everyone to have as fair a chance in the economy as is humanly possible. I despise special privileges that stack the deck either in favor of Jones or against Smith. (We can have a debate about what the details of “fair process” and “special privileges” look like, but this post is not the place for such a debate.) But I do not care about differences in monetary income or wealth as such.”
Every American is entitled to a fair chance to succeed in our economy. But here’s an incontrovertible fact: human bias and prejudice actively prevent some Americans at a fair shot.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about housing discrimination.
Zenobia of Petersburg Virginia wanted to move her family to a better neighborhood so her four children could attend better schools and build a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, she was turned down for housing repeatedly because she uses public assistance to pay for rent. This type of housing discrimination reduced the fair shot Zenobia is entitled to.
A recent study found that many low income Americans are trapped in areas with fewer opportunities:
One of the most disappointing results of the study, Tegler says, is that the majority of recipients of the Housing Choice Voucher Program still live near low-performing schools, even though the program is designed to provide greater housing options.
It is humanly possible to give these folks a fair chance in our economy. We have to eliminate discrimination against people using public assistance for housing. When people are able to choose great neighborhoods themselves, they will have the fair shot they are entitled to in our economy. We must also make sure that there is affordable housing in great neighborhoods.
Our future economic prosperity could depend on mortgage lending discrimination
America is becoming more and more diverse. Given how much middle class wealth depends on home ownership and home values, if we do not significantly reduce mortgage lending discrimination, then we are placing our future economic prosperity at risk.
HOME CEO Heather Crislip writes about mortgage lending discrimination in her recent op/ed:
Subprime lending to minority borrowers has abated within the past few years; in its place is a lack of credit and, in turn, opportunity in African-American, Hispanic and low-income neighborhoods. During the housing boom these households were often targeted by unfair lending practices through the distribution of inferior mortgage loan products to qualified borrowers. The Center for Responsible Lending found that African-American and Latino borrowers with good credit were given high interest rate loans three times as often during the housing boom.
According to the US Census, by the end of this decade no single racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of children under 18. And in about three decades, no single group will constitute a majority of the country as a whole. But as we are growing more diverse, we are also growing more unequal. Both wealth and racial inequality have increased, in some cases dramatically.
Housing discrimination is not a thing of the past. It can have a devastating impact on one’s life. Housing discrimination means a person is denied living near things important to them, such as good schools, jobs and transportation options.
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development announced a fair housing settlement with a property management company in Va Beach. I’ve bolded some sections for emphasis:
a Hispanic woman filed a complaint alleging that Virginia Realty, a property management company that manages over 500 rental units throughout Virginia Beach and Norfolk, refused to provide her a rental application because she could not speak English well and refused the translation assistance of the bilingual person she brought with her.
In the course of the investigation, HUD discovered that Virginia Realty had a written policy expressly requiring all prospective tenants to be able to communicate with management staff in English without assistance from others, and to complete rental applications only while they were in the management office.
Where you live directly influences your ability to access the opportunity cycle
By 2040 the population of the United States will be predominantly people of color. The evidence put forth in Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia’s new report Where You Live Makes All the Difference: An Opportunity Map of the Richmond Region suggests that if our economic development and housing policies continue to isolate and exploit this population, the future vitality of the region is in trouble.
The Richmond region has long suffered from the repercussions of its past. Beginning in the 1930s, federal housing policy promoted segregation through incentivizing the growth of white, middle class suburban areas while starving the inner city of credit. The result has been intergenerational, concentrated poverty in some of the oldest neighborhoods of the region, while increasingly remote neighborhoods, available only to those with the necessary means, continue to blossom and flourish. Only by understanding the mechanisms that have woven the fabric of opportunity throughout the Richmond region will we be able to move forward.