09 October 2008

Landlord Discrimination Still Rampant

Racial discrimination by landlords remains as common as it was when the civil rights acts were passed.

The FHA [Fair Housing Act of 1968] has prohibited racial and national origin discrimination in housing for nearly forty years. Most states and scores of localities have substantially equivalent laws that mirror the FHA’s prohibitions. Still, landlords continue to violate these prohibitions at an astonishing rate.

The most recent nationwide study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), based on thousands of paired tests in dozens of metropolitan areas in 2000, showed that, in rental tests, whites were favored over blacks 21.6% of the time and over Hispanics 25.7% of the time.6 The rate of rental discrimination against Hispanics was actually higher than had been shown in a similar study in 1989, and the 2000 figure for blacks was down only a few percentage points compared to its 1989 counterpart.7 Furthermore, the 1989 figures were not significantly different from those revealed in the first of these nationwide studies, which was done in 1977. . . . the 2000 study shows that, annually, rental discrimination against blacks occurs over 1.6 million times and against Hispanics over 1.1 million times.9

6. . . . Additional phases of this study found similar rates of rental discrimination against other ethnic minorities. . . . Asians and Pacific Islanders experienced adverse treatment compared to whites in 21.5% of rental tests . . . Native Americans experienced consistently unfavorable treatment compared to whites in 28.5% of rental tests.

7. . . . The 1989 study found that whites were favored over blacks in 26.4% of rental tests and that whites were favored over Hispanics in just under 25% of such tests. . . .

9. . . . [T]here are 1,626,000 instances of rental discrimination against African Americans (498,000 involving the availability of apartments, 1,068,000 involving the inspection of apartments, and 60,000 involving agent encouragement), while the total annual figure for sales discrimination is 193,000. . . . The comparable figures for Hispanics are 1,178,315 instances of rental discrimination (542,022 involving the availability of apartments, 381,724 involving the inspection of apartments, 164,399 involving agent encouragement, and 90,170 involving overall cost), while the total for sales discrimination is 101,258. . . . These totals, added to the some 422,000 instances of housing discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the 181,000 instances against Native Americans, produce a total figure of more than 3,700,000 instances of rental and sales discrimination per year.


From Robert G. Schwemm, "Why Do Landlords Still Discriminate (and What Can Be Done About It)?"

The high rate of adverse treatment of Asian-Americans in the rental market is particularly surprising, given the prevailing stereotype of Asian-Americans as a model minority treated comparable to whites in most respects where ethnicities that are less well off on average socio-economically are discriminated against.

The absolute numbers matter need to be considered in light of the fact that:

Some 34,000,000 United States households — about one-third of the nation’s total — live in rental housing. . . . Half of all minority households are renters, compared to only a quarter of white households. . . . the minority share of renter households was 27% in 1980, 31% in 1990, and 43% in 2004 . . . in the 1994-2004 period, minority renters rose by nearly three million households, while the number of white renters underwent a comparable decline. . . In 2003, immigrants headed 16% of all renter households, nearly 30% of all minority renter households, and 54% of Hispanic renter households. . . . Renters also move more frequently than home buyers. Fifty-eight percent of 'the more than 23 million households changing residence in 2001 moved into a rental unit.'"


Also notable as a baseline is the structure of the rental market in the United States:

The inventory of rental units stood at 37.2 million in 2003. The vast majority of these (nearly 27 million) are unsubsidized and privately owned, and seventy percent of these units (almost 19 million) are in single-family or small (two-to-nine-unit) multifamily structures. More than one third of renters live in single family homes. . . .Five out of six single-family rentals are owned by individuals or married couples. . . .

Individuals own more than half of all rental units. Some 4.3 million households earn rental income from a second property, and most of these (nearly eighty percent) have only one rental property. Half of individual rental property owners are fifty-five years old or over. These older owners — and, for that matter, small property owners in general — tend to run their own properties without employing outside agents.


There are patterns in rates of rental housing discrimination:

[A]s shown by both the 1989 and 2000 studies, rental discrimination rates vary among metropolitan areas. Thus, for example, rental discrimination against blacks in 2000 was worse in Atlanta than Chicago, and was worse against Hispanics in New York than Denver.


Notably, landlords also misreport their taxable income at remarkably high rates.

Progress Elsewhere?

Schwemn goes on to note that more progress has been made at combatting racial discrimination in other domains, although I am somewhat skeptical, as the empirical evidence above is not comparable to the measures of social acceptability for overt discrimination cited in other domains. Schwem states:

Rental discrimination is, of course, only one part of the overall housing discrimination picture, although it seems to be the most intractable part. For example, sales testing was also done in HUD’s 2000 study, and, although high levels of sales discrimination were shown, these levels were not as high as those for rental discrimination and were substantially lower than the comparable figures for sales discrimination revealed in the 1989 study.12 There is also evidence of substantial race and national origin discrimination in mortgage lending, home insurance, and other housing-related practices covered by the FHA.13

The continuing high degree of noncompliance with the FHA14 stands in sharp contrast to the experience in other areas of American life governed by federal civil rights laws. For example, with respect to public accommodations, it is rare — and therefore a cause for public outrage — when a hotel or restaurant denies service to customers on the basis of their race or national origin. Similarly, in employment, intentional racial discrimination is now generally seen as indefensible and worthy of immediate corrective measures. As a result, America’s hotels, restaurants, and workplaces have become far more integrated since the 1960s than have our residential communities. Housing is the civil rights area “where the possibility for real change is viewed as most remote.”

12. . . . in sales tests, whites were favored over blacks 17.0% of the time (vs. 29.0% in 1989) and over Hispanics 19.7% of the time (vs. 26.8% in 1989 . . . in sales tests, whites were favored over Asians and Pacific Islanders 20.4% of the time[.]

13. . . . minority homebuyers were disadvantaged in forty-five percent of paired tests relating to mortgages in the greater Boston area in 2005-2006); . . . over one hundred mortgage tests in six metropolitan areas “illustrate widespread and blatant policies of racially discriminatory lending practices” . . . based on a paired testing study in Chicago and Los Angeles, that “African American and Hispanic homebuyers face a significant risk of receiving less favorable treatment than comparable whites when they visit mortgage lending institutions to inquire about financing options”[.]

14. Based on the 1977 study’s figures, HUD estimated that at least 2,000,000 instances of illegal sales and rental discrimination based on race or national origin were occurring every year. . . . it is now estimated that at least 3,700,000 instances of such discrimination occur every year. . . . about seventeen percent of adults in the United States – over 33,000,000 people, based on a total U.S. over twenty-one population of 197,000,000 – “claims to have suffered discrimination at some point when trying to buy or rent a house or apartment”[.]


Blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to have entered into subprime mortgages and to do business with subprime mortgage companies, even controlling for income and education.

In my view, employment discrimination may actually be more pervasive than than housing discrimination, but the bulk of employment discrimination occurs in hiring, rather than in firing or promotion, where most lawsuits arise.

The nature of Schwem's proof does, however, support the thesis that much of the empirical effect of laws prohibiting racial discrimination comes from the social stigma and changed attitudes that illegality attaches to racial discrimination, rather than from case by case analysis of the risks of being punished for engaging in racial discrimination in economic transactions.

Interracial Marriage Compared

Precisely because it is not legally regulated (laws prohibiting interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional in 1967, just a year before the Fair Housing Act was adopted), interracial marriage rates are a good measure of the strength of underlying racial prejudices in our society in serious interpersonal contexts (as opposed to the individually rather impersonal and trivial market transactions regulated by prohibations on racial discrimination in public accomodations).

On one hand, interracial marriage is dramatically more common today than it was in 1970. Currently, 7% of couples are interracial, compared to less than 2% then. On the other hand, the vast majority of people of almost all racial groups marry someone of the same racial group (certain sub-ethnicities of Asian-American women are the notable exception), indicating that for this kind of relationship color blind decision making is very much the exception rather than the rule.

Also, some pairings of mixed race couples are relatively common, while others are very rare -- an indication of the stength of the cultural boundaries that still exist. For example, in 1970, just 0.1% of marriages involved black-white couples, while in 2005, these marriages made up 0.4% of couples. While this is a more than three-fold increase, this still indicates that cultural barriers are still very high in a society where about two-thirds of the population identifies as single race non-Hispanic white, and about 12% of the population identifies as single race black as of 2005.

By way of comparison, before 1965, 10% of Jews who married did so outside the faith. But, since 1985, 52% of Jews who married have done so outside the faith. (If faith were not a factor at all, the percentage would probably exceed 90% given current population distributions of Jews geographically.)

2 comments:

Michael Malak said...

It's garlic in cooking. That's why Asians are discriminated against in housing.

I know this because in a former life I was president of a neighborhood association for a sprawl suburban neighborhood that still had a lot of original purchasers from the 1960's -- and they complained to me about the "newcomers".

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