HUD Study Finds that Minorities Still Face Unequal Treatment from Housing Providers

HUD’s fourth study on the state of housing discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, released on June 11, reveals that while blatant acts of discrimination among real estate agents and rental property owners are on the decline, subtle and not easily detectible forms of discrimination against minorities persist. 

The study’s paired testing methodology, which is similar to that of earlier HUD housing discrimination studies conducted in 1977, 1989, and 2000, reveals cases of discriminatory behavior among housing providers toward pairs of similarly well-qualified white and minority (black, Hispanic, and Asian) testers who contacted housing providers to schedule in-person meetings and view available units. Tests were conducted in 28 metropolitan areas across the country in both rental and sale markets, and housing providers were chosen from online and print advertisements. Paired testing is useful because it detects discrimination that is not immediately apparent to the victim, such as cases in which housing providers tell only members of a certain ethnic group that additional housing units are available.

The study found that minority renters and white renters were equally able to make appointments with rental housing owners. However, while meeting with landlords, Hispanic, Asian, and black testers were told about fewer available rental housing units than equally qualified white testers, with blacks and Hispanics being told about one fewer unit for every five in-person appointments and Asians being told about one fewer unit for every six appointments. This trend continues among homebuyers, as agents tell black potential homebuyers about 17% fewer homes and show them 17.7% fewer homes than similarly qualified white homebuyers. Asian homebuyers face similar levels of discrimination, as they are told about 15.5% fewer homes and are shown 18.8% fewer homes than their white counterparts. The study found no statistically significant difference in treatment between white and Hispanic homebuyers.

The consequences of this housing discrimination are serious as minorities are offered fewer housing options than whites and therefore must expend more time and resources in their housing searches. Though differences in methodology prevent direct comparison between this study and HUD’s earlier paired-testing studies, analysis of the four studies reveals that since 1980, residential segregation of whites from Hispanics, Asians, and especially blacks is declining. Thus, enforcement of fair housing policies appears to be working.

HUD researchers recommend that since the discrimination described in this study is difficult for victims to detect, fair housing enforcers should not rely upon victims’ complaints as the primary method of reporting discrimination. Rather, HUD calls for the local fair housing organizations it supports to be more proactive in testing for discrimination in local housing markets, as well as for increased public education on fair housing and further research on factors other than discrimination that cause neighborhood segregation and disparities.

Report contributor Margery Austin Turner, Senior Vice President for Program Planning and Management at the Urban Institute, and Sara Pratt, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Programs at HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, presented the study’s findings at a briefing held at HUD on June 11. “It’s clear we still have work to do to end discrimination once and for all,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who gave remarks at the briefing.

Access the full study, “Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012,” at: