Housing Discrimination Research
Todd M. Richardson, Associate Deputy Assistant SecretaryIn the past month HUD released two important studies as part of its series of Housing Discrimination Studies (HDS), “Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities 2012” and “An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples.” The first study, the latest in a series of HUD-sponsored studies conducted approximately once a decade since 1977, measures the extent of housing discrimination in the United States based on race or ethnicity. The second study, which provides the first national estimate of discrimination faced by same-sex couples seeking rental housing, offers clear evidence that gay and lesbian couples experience significant discrimination when seeking information about rental housing.
These studies reveal that racial and ethnic minorities and same-sex couples continue to face significant hurdles in their housing search. Rental and sales agents often show minorities fewer units than comparable white home seekers or withhold information about other units. Same-sex couples’ email inquiries about advertised rental units are responded to less frequently than email inquiries from heterosexual couples. These discriminatory actions reduce housing choice and increase the cost of the home search.
Although both studies show that housing policymakers and advocates still have work to do, they also indicate a nation headed in the right direction. When the first of these studies was conducted in 1977, “door slamming”— that is, showing an advertised housing unit only to non-Hispanic white home seekers while telling equally qualified minority home seekers that the unit is unavailable— was extremely common. HDS 1989 and 2000 showed a steady decline in this form of housing discrimination, and HDS 2012 shows that door slamming is now very rare. The groundbreaking study on housing discrimination against same sex couples is remarkable because its very existence indicates a national interest in the problem. Although sexual orientation is not protected under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, an estimated 21 states and the District of Columbia do offer such protection.
Both the enforcement of fair housing laws and continued research on fair housing are important work. My father’s generation fought for and began implementing the 1968 Fair Housing Act and other landmark civil rights legislation of the 1960s. I remember my own father, who was supporting the implementation of the Fair Housing Act in the 1970s as director of housing programs for the Urban League of Flint, Michigan, telling his children about the new fair housing logo: a house containing an equal sign in the middle.
It was about this time, around 1975, that HUD staff commissioned a set of papers that would recommend “how the Fair Housing program might be evaluated most effectively.”1 The papers proposed were varied, but one stood out for proposing the audit method, also known as paired testing, to establish the extent of the problem. This suggestion — by economists Barton Smith and Peter Mieszkowski, then of the University of Houston — led to the 1977 national study that serves as the baseline for the subsequent three HDS.2
I was born in 1968, after the passage of the United States’ major civil rights legislation, and like most Americans, I have lived through the period of civil rights enforcement and expansion of protections. Today, I continue my father’s work and the work of my HUD colleagues who began the HDS in the 1970s. HDS has become a signature project of HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research and has enjoyed strong bipartisan support from Congress. HDS documents the nation’s incredible progress toward addressing housing discrimination over the past 35 years. The battle is not won; discrimination is still present. But we have come a very long way.