Research Finds Patterns of Racial Inequality in Housing Subsidy Programs

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ball State University, and Washington University in St. Louis published a new study investigating racial inequality in subsidized housing units and whether this inequality is particularly pronounced in specific subsidy programs. Using restricted data from the American Housing Survey (AHS) and American Community Survey (ACS), the researchers found that white renters have disproportionately better access to higher quality units at lower costs. The researchers also found that subsidized renters of color tended to live in more racially segregated neighborhoods.

To assess the persistence of racial inequality in subsidized housing, the researchers linked geocoded, restricted versions of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 AHS and ACS. The researchers evaluated the number of unsafe or unhealthy conditions in a rental unit (e.g., problems related to heating, plumbing, and electrical systems), housing cost and rent affordability, and neighborhood segregation. Differences in neighborhood poverty rates, vacancy rates, and incomes were also taken into consideration.

Households of color are overrepresented among subsidized renters compared to white households. Yet the researchers observed significant disparities impacting households of color in subsidized housing programs in terms of housing quality, cost, and neighborhood segregation. The researchers found that subsidized white renters lived in units with fewer unsafe conditions and are charged less for these units, all else being equal, compared to American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN), Black, and Latinx renters. On average, AI/AN, Black, and Latinx subsidized renters all had more than one unsafe condition in their housing units, while white and Asian renters had fewer than one. Despite living in units with more unsafe housing conditions, Latinx subsidized renters paid $110 more a month than white subsidized renters. Similarly, Black renters paid $75 more a month than their white counterparts. The researchers also observed racial segregation among subsidized renters. White subsidized renters lived in neighborhoods that were nearly 70% white on average, while Asian, Black, and Latinx subsidized renters lived in neighborhoods that were, on average, 30% white.

The researchers examined a range of factors that could have contributed to these observed racial and ethnic disparities.  For example, to examine how differences in renter demographics might contribute to racial inequality, the researchers considered how age, household composition, marital status, and citizenship status might influence unit quality, unit cost, and segregation. Similarly, to identify the role property features might play in observed racial inequality, the researchers considered the decade the property was built, whether the building was a multi-unit structure, and the total number of rooms in a unit. The researchers looked for segregation across subsidy programs since differences in program policies and contexts might contribute to inequities. They also considered contextual factors such neighborhood poverty rates. Ultimately, the researchers found that these factors explained some, but not all, of the racial inequality observed among subsidized renters. This suggests unobserved factors, such as bureaucratic processes, might contribute to racial disparities in subsidized housing programs.

The authors call for further research to investigate the bureaucratic processes that may be contributing to racial segregation in HUD subsidy programs with the goal of determining interventions to promote equity and integration within subsidized housing. The authors also point to steps government agencies could take to promote integration, such as integrating developments across age and family composition, as well as investing in AI/AN housing developments.

Read the report at: