Housing Discrimination is Alive Today

Many people believe that the United States has entered a post-racial society.  After all, immigration and multi-racial families have created a diverse country, and we have a black President.  Unfortunately, recent stories suggest that racial discrimination and inequality is continuing to persist in the housing sector (as well as other areas).

In April 2012, a discrimination complaint against U.S. Bank was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the National Fair Housing Alliance and other organizations.  The National Fair Housing Alliance is a consortium of fair housing agencies and individuals throughout the United States.  The National Fair Housing Alliance’s mission is to eliminate discrimination and promote equal opportunity in housing through education, advocacy, enforcement, and public policy initiatives.

The complaint alleges that foreclosed homes that have been taken over by U.S. Bank are not taken care of in minority communities as well as the homes U.S. Bank has absorbed in white communities.  Properties in minority neighborhoods are not well-maintained, which makes the surrounding look undesirable and create health hazards for neighbors.  There has also been poor marketing for the properties owned by the bank, which keeps the homes sitting vacant.  The vacant, unkempt properties impact the entire neighborhood they reside in.  Home seekers are less likely to purchase a home on a street that seems undesirable, and current residents have difficulty selling their home if they decide to move.  The complaint argues that the bank’s habit of ignoring their properties in minority communities is discriminatory and violates the federal Fair Housing Act.  New data allows communities to continue to be added to the original complaint (the most recent addition occurred in November 2013).  There are currently 20 total cities with communities that are included in the complaint.

A discrimination complaint was also filed against Bailey Properties, an apartment property management company that has allegedly been discriminating against Latinos in the southern United States.  Last month, the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission filed the complaint with HUD because the management company has been refusing to rent their properties to Latinos.  The complaint also claims the company has discriminated in the conditions or terms of rental for Latinos that have been able to rent their properties.

In December 2012, a discrimination complaint was filed with HUD against Allstate Insurance.  The National Fair Housing Alliance reported that Allstate has been utilizing redlining practices to discriminate against African American communities in Wilmington, Delaware.  The company has refused to provide home insurance plans for houses with flat roofs.  African Americans are more likely to live in areas of town that have a concentration of houses with flat roofs.  The policy set by Allstate has a disparate impact that results in discriminatory effects that disproportionately harm African Americans in Wilmington.

A recent national study conducted by HUD reported that racial minorities continue to be discriminated against in the housing sector.  The study used paired testers to assess the experiences of different races navigating the housing sector in 2012.  The report revealed that minorities are told about and shown fewer houses and apartments than white home seekers.  Further, minorities who can pass as white either over the phone or in person experience less discrimination than minorities who cannot pass.  The impact of these different experiences along racial lines is that minorities are constrained in their housing choices, which can influence the costs of available housing choices.

The cases described above indicate that racial discrimination in housing is still prevalent.  Discrimination may have decreased in the last 40 years but it is still evident and has merely shifted into a different form.  Subtle inequality has replaced direct discrimination – an African American will not likely be refused to see any available homes or apartments as in the past, but the African American won’t be able to see as many properties as a white person.  This change in discrimination is more difficult to notice because minorities aren’t being completely denied housing opportunities and so without a deeper investigation it appears as if their experiences are equal to whites.

Monitoring the participation of different races and ethnicities in the housing sector is necessary to analyze the changes in discrimination each year.  Paired testing is the method utilized by researchers to measure discrimination in the housing sector.  Paired testing matches a white and non-white individual who have equal qualifications to buy or rent a home.  The pair inquires about the same available listings and records the treatment they received from each property manager.  Paired testing controls for all variables except the person’s race or ethnicity, allowing researchers to identify racial differences.  This method has successfully measured discrimination in the housing sector for decades and continues to be a valuable tool for fair housing experts and agencies who are working to combat housing discrimination.

The hope is that through HUD complaints and lawsuits housing providers will be held accountable for their actions and ultimately improve their compliance with fair hosuing law.  In the meantime, it is important for individuals to understand their rights as renters, homeowners, and home seekers.  Those who believe they have experienced discrimination should file a complaint with HUD.  Housing discrimination continues to occupy our communities and it is important to be aware of and work alongside our neighbors to eliminate discriminatory practices.

To file a complaint with HUD:

Additional information and resources:


By Casey Griffith, Research and Outreach Coordinator