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As New Forms of Housing Discrimination Arise, How Can We Take Action Against It?

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

This line is from Martin Luther King’s most famous “I Have a Dream” speech given in 1963. He was the greatest voice of the civil rights movement and called to end discrimination through peaceful protest. Many people view this period as the last era of blatant discrimination, however, in this day and age it is more prevalent than ever. Although federal legislation has been passed to tackle different types of discrimination, new forms of discrimination have emerged. One new form of discrimination is especially exemplified through housing, with de facto housing discrimination practices still being used by many realtors across the nation. These practices occur in subtle, yet detrimental ways, and realtors often constrain housing choices for minorities and are less flexible when it comes to payment, further perpetuating housing inequality in America.

There are plenty of incidents and forms of housing discrimination present in the United States. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted a study involving 8,000 pairs of equally qualified buyers and renters: with one being white and one being a minority, to see if there were major disparities when it came to the treatment, accessibility, and the price point of housing. The results showed many discrepancies between the minority testee and the white testee, due to the individual actions of realtors. For example, the study found that “[b]lacks in the market [were] shown 17 percent fewer properties than whites.” Realtors are reinforcing housing discrimination through their choice in showing minorities fewer properties.

Furthermore, the study found that even minority renters are treated unequally to their white counterparts, with “black prospective renters [being] presented 11 percent fewer rentals than whites.” Minorities are less likely than whites to learn about the full range of housing options available to them, illustrating how Hansberry’s message is still relevant to this day. Additionally, the study found that there were disparities in the cost of housing, with “[w]hite testers… more frequently offered lower rents, told that deposits and other move-in costs were negotiable, or were quoted a lower price. Taking into account fees, deposits and rents, apartments were more likely to cost whites slightly less in the first year of rental than blacks might pay.”

Not only is housing discrimination still evident, but this prejudice is immensely harming minorities as well. These practices “increase the cost and time minorities need to spend on finding a suitable home and constrains the choices available to them and their families”. This illustrates the reality that even to this day, minorities are at a major disadvantage when it comes to housing, and end up having to put more time and effort into finding a home all due to discrimination.

Now some may say that there has been legislation passed to tackle blatant forms of housing discrimination. Some may point to the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968, which made it illegal for people “to refuse to rent, sell, or provide financing for a dwelling based on factors other than an individual’s financial resources”. Essentially, realtors can solely consider an individual’s finances when selling or renting residences to others.

However, there is no way to enforce this law on a federal level, and discriminatory housing practices still persist today with effects to the same extent as discriminatory housing legislation in the past, illustrated through the aforementioned evidence. Overall, the unconscious biases and individual actions of realtors (who are often guided by racist beliefs) still play a major role in perpetuating housing discrimination. These discriminatory practices are often impossible for individuals to detect themselves, making it more difficult to take action against them.

In conclusion, it is evident that housing discrimination is still manifested in today’s society. As new forms of housing discrimination arise, it gets harder to detect and take action against it. However, there are some ways to minimize housing inequities. Cities can locally enforce fair housing, and conduct similar quasi-experimental housing tests on a smaller scale, to detect if any housing discrimination is occurring in local areas. These local reports can help lawmakers create strategies to advocate equitable housing for all.

Photo: Nico Düsing

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