Report Highlights Discrimination against Black and Latina Women with Children in Online Rental Housing Market

A report published by Housing Policy Debate, “Multidimensional Discrimination in the Online Rental Housing Market: Implications for Families with Young Children,” uses an intersectional approach to examine the combined effects of race and ethnicity, family structure, and income source on housing discrimination. The report finds that while each factor on its own can contribute to housing discrimination, a combination of these factors can increase the likelihood of discrimination. For example, Black women and Latinas were less likely to receive positive responses to rental ad inquiries than white women, and single motherhood further decreased the likelihood of receiving a positive response for Black women and Latinas, despite having no effect on response rates for white women.

To conduct their study, the researchers responded to rental ads posted on Craigslist across 31 U.S. cities from October 2017 to May 2019. They posed as prospective female renters and responded to posts for rental units in a manner that signaled their race and ethnicity, parental and marital status, and source of income. Using data from 4,058 email inquiries to landlords, they evaluated two primary outcomes: the receipt of any response at all from the landlord and the indication of a positive response based on the landlord’s willingness to show the unit.

Of the email inquiries sent, 44.8% received a response and 34.1% received a positive response, with differential rates based on race and ethnicity, family structure, and income. Emails that signaled the sender was in possession of a housing choice voucher, for example, received a 40.1% response rate. Of the voucher-related inquiries that received a response, only 23.4% were positive responses while 39% were explicit refusals to rent to the household. The overall response rate for white women was 46.8% and the positive response rate was 35.4%, whereas for Black women the overall response rate was 42.6% and the positive response rate was 34.4%. The response rate for Latinas was not significantly different from white women or Black women.

In some cases, belonging to multiple disadvantaged groups further decreased the likelihood of receiving a positive response. For example, mentioning the presence of a child in a household had no impact on the likelihood of receiving a response or a positive response on its own. However, Black women and Latinas who mentioned the presence of a child in their household were less likely to receive a positive response compared to Black and Latina women who did not mention the presence of a child. This held true for Black women and Latinas who signaled they were single mothers, while response rates for white women who signaled they were single mothers were unaffected. The authors note that these findings could have resulted from landlords’ negative stereotypes about single motherhood among Black women and Latinas.

The results of the study provide important insights into the challenges faced by women seeking rental housing online. Even so, it should be noted that the results are qualified by significant limitations to the study. Not all sources of disadvantage and advantage were measured, for example, and the researchers were unable to measure the impact of gender bias because they used only female names in their inquiries. Likewise, the study was unable to assess the connections between neighborhoods and discriminatory patterns or whether discrimination differed from one online platform to another.

The report can be accessed at: