By Hazel Trice Edney
Blatant acts of housing discrimination have declined in the U. S., but a national study shows that prospective landlords, real estate agents and rental housing providers have found a new way to keep their racism under the radar.
The study of 28 cities, conducted by The Urban Institute and released last month by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, reports that while Blacks, Asians and Latinos are no longer blatantly denied housing by being told it is unavailable, discriminators now simply show them fewer units than Whites are shown.
“Real estate agents and rental housing providers recommend and show fewer available homes and apartments to minority families, thereby increasing their costs and restricting their housing options. The study concludes this is a national, not a regional, phenomenon,” states a HUD description of the study results.
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination in housing based on race. But, the study, titled Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012, outlines how housing providers attempt to get around the law by sneakily omitting certain units while apparently showing Blacks and other minorities what they want them to see.
“Black, Hispanic, and Asian renters are all told about fewer housing units than equally qualified white renters,” says the Executive Summary of the study. “Black renters who contact agents about recently advertised housing units learn about 11.4 percent fewer available units than equally qualified whites and are shown 4.2 percent fewer units. Hispanic renters learn about 12.5 percent fewer available units than equally qualified whites and are shown 7.5 percent fewer units. Asian renters learn about 9.8 percent fewer available units than equally qualified whites and are shown 6.6 percent fewer units.”
Other than the reduced numbers of units shown, the study reports that ethnic minority renters also experience other less consistent forms of discriminatory treatment. They relate to “housing costs and quality and the helpfulness of the rental agent.”
Racial minorities seeking homes to buy receive the same discriminatory treatment, the study shows.
“Like renters, minority homebuyers are rarely denied appointments that their white counterparts are able to make,” the study reports. “However, black homebuyers are slightly more likely than equally qualified whites to be denied an in-person appointment.”
Among the 28 cities sampled in the study were: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, Newark, N.J., Greensboro and Winston-Salem, N.C.; Columbia, S.C., Kansas City, Mo., Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C.
“Fewer minorities today may be getting the door slammed in their faces, but we continue to see evidence of housing discrimination that can limit a family’s housing, economic and educational opportunities,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a statement. “It’s clear we still have work to do to end housing discrimination once and for all.”
The Urban Institute’s Margery Turner, one of six preparers of the study, observes the stealth nature of the discrimination: “The forms of discrimination documented by this study are very difficult for victims to detect,” she said in a statement. “To detect housing discrimination today, HUD and local fair housing organizations need to conduct proactive testing, especially in the sales market, where discrimination appears higher than in the rental market.”
Despite the clear findings of the new type of discrimination, the study indicates more research is needed in order to pinpoint the causes and effects of the discrimination as well as the neighborhood segregation that apparently result.
“As attitudes and market practices evolve, policymakers and fair housing practitioners need reliable research not only on patterns of discrimination, but also on other factors that may contribute to residential segregation and disparities in neighborhood quality,” concludes the executive summary. “Minorities still suffer from substantial disparities in neighborhood amenities and access to opportunity and the levels and forms of housing discrimination captured by this paired-testing study cannot fully explain current levels of residential segregation.”
It continues, “Information gaps, stereotypes and fears, local regulatory policies, and disparities in purchasing power all work together to perpetuate segregation, even though many Americans—minority and white—say they want to live in more diverse neighborhoods.”
Pending more research, the following are among the final observations and recommendations given in the study:
“Meaningful reductions in neighborhood segregation and inequality can only be achieved if we tackle all these causal forces at the same time.”
“Enforcing existing fair housing protections remains essential. However, fair housing enforcement alone cannot reverse persistent patterns of segregation or undo the damage they cause.”
“The evidence argues for a multipronged strategy that includes vigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination protections along with education.
Education should pertain to “the availability and desirability of diverse neighborhoods; local regulatory reforms and affordable housing development.”
The goal must be “to open up exclusive communities and preserve affordable options in gentrifying neighborhoods” and to provide “neighborhood reinvestment—to equalize the quality of services, resources, and amenities in minority neighborhoods.”
“New incentives” are needed “to encourage and nurture stable diversity.”
The study concludes, “All these elements are required to achieve the fundamental goals of free and fair housing choice and healthy, opportunity-rich neighborhoods.”
HUD Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Bryan Greene says the study’s results represents, “a glass that’s half full.”
He said, “While discrimination may not be as obvious as it was in the 1960s, the study reminds us that we still aren’t living up to the principles upon which this nation was founded,” said “HUD is committed to ensuring that every American has equal access to housing opportunities.”