Recently the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute (UI) published the 2012 Housing Discrimination Survey. HUD and UI conduct these surveys across the nation about once every 10 years. (It is not exactly every 10 years so that housing professionals don't know when exactly the survey will occur.)
The study uses a technique called "paired testing" that matches two people of similar characteristics in every aspect except the race, ethnicity, or, for the first time this year, sexual orientation of the testers. This allows to test against the one variable to account for discrimination. I was a test coordinator for the previous version of this survey when it was conducted in 2000. It is quite rigorous and the social scientists who run it are experts in their field. However, I do have some objections to their methodology that I think diminishes the differences they find. For instance, they do not include tests unless both testers receive a return call from the housing professional. So, if a white tester gets a call back and a black tester doesn't that test is not included despite the likely possibility that the black tester was avoided by the landlord. I say likely because in 2000 this often happened but never happened in the reverse.
Initially, the results look positive in that discrimination appears to be declining overall. However, the differences between what whites are told about and shown is still significantly higher than what is shown to people of color. Also, for the first time, sexual orientation was tested and showed that heterosexual couples also receive better treatment than same-sex couples.
Surprisingly, the survey found that in real estate Latinos received similar treatment to whites. However, in rental situations Latinos were told about 12.5% fewer units and shown 7.5% fewer units. Interestingly, these numbers were larger than the discrepancies for African Americans. Black testers were shown 11.4% fewer and shown 4.2% fewer units than white when looking for rentals. Asians were in between. White testers were told about 9.8% more units and shown 6.6% more units than Asian testers.
While Latinos didn't have significant differences in testing for sales of homes, African Americans and Asians did. Blacks were told about 17% fewer listings and shown 17.7% fewer homes. Asians were told about 15.5% fewer listings and shown 18.8% fewer homes.
The survey brings a few questions to my mind.
- This is the first time I've seen a survey where Latinos are treated equally to whites (for sales of homes). As I said above, it is a surprise and I'm curious about what is at the root of this change. It is even more curious given that Latinos are facing the greatest amount of discrimination in the rental arena.
- I was also surprised that Asians had greater discrepancies in showings than African Americans. When I analyze Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Data, Asians have much higher lending rates than African Americans and Latinos. So, it is curious that Asians are being shown fewer homes but they are getting mortgages more often. I also wonder if there is a breakdown to test differences for East Asians (i.e. Japanese, Chinese, Koreans) and South Asians (i.e. Indians, Pakistanis). There are differences in treatments and stereotypes between the two groups.
- Discrimination has gotten more sophisticated and subtle over the past 40 years. I wonder how much of the decline in the survey is due to more subtle methods of discrimination. For instance, what happens after being told about and shown units? The study doesn't test if roadblocks are created for people of color when they decide to rent or purchase a specific unit or home.
Of course, discrimination is just a symptom of the twin diseases of prejudice and segregation. While the survey shows a need to increase efforts to combat discrimination, it makes even more clear (to e anyway) the need to improve integration and incentivize fair housing compliance for housing professionals. Discrimination enforcement is a reactive strategy. Integration and compliance are proactive.
In Oak Park, we are ahead of the game on these two more effective strategies. Our intentional efforts at the Housing Center, Village Hall, and through other partners sustain and improve an integrated community. And, our real estate community is exceptionally professional with a leadership that is truly invested in fair housing compliance.
Perhaps between now and the next survey HUD consider that the best strategy to lower the rate of discrimination is to replicate our strategy to approach fair housing proactively in communities across the country.
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