Housing discrimination more subtle, according to national study

By Kim Shindle | June 12, 2013 | 3 min. read

African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians learn about fewer housing options than equally qualified whites in both the buying and rental housing markets, according to a study released yesterday.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute (UI) announced the results of the joint Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012 study which found that while blatant acts of housing discrimination faced by minority home buyers continue to decline in the U.S., more subtle forms of housing denial persist.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said, “The sad truth is that our long struggle remains unfinished. Discrimination still exists.”

More than 8,000 tests were conducted in a nationally representative sample of 28 metropolitan areas. Philadelphia was the only metropolitan area in Pennsylvania to be included in the testing. In each test, two trained individuals — one white and the other black, Hispanic, or Asian — contacted a housing provider to inquire about a housing unit randomly selected from recently advertised homes and apartments. The two testers in each pair were matched on gender and age, and both presented themselves as equally and unambiguously well-qualified to rent or buy the advertised unit.

African-American homebuyers who contact agents about recently advertised homes for sale learn about 17 percent fewer available homes than equally qualified whites and are shown 17.7 percent fewer homes. Asian homebuyers learn about 15.5 percent fewer available homes than equally qualified whites and are shown 18.8 percent fewer homes. Overall differences in treatment for Hispanic homebuyers are not statistically significant, and Hispanics are not recommended or shown a statistically different number of homes per inquiry than comparably qualified white homebuyers.

“We want to stress that these are more than just numbers,” Donovan said. “These represent families that are being denied the American dream.”

UI Senior Vice President Margery Austin Turner said the paired testers were well-qualified and matched in gender and age. “The forms of discrimination documented by this study are very difficult for victims to detect,” Turner said. “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.”

Donovan said the housing industry has made real progress since testing began in 1977 when black homebuyers were regularly denied to see available properties but “we should not be under any illusions that the job is done.”

He stressed that HUD would continue to partner with local organizations to conduct testing to collect fair housing information and to proactively bring complaints. HUD has also introduced a fair housing app for iPhones and iPads so consumers can learn about their housing rights and file complaints.

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