Researchers at the University of New Mexico have conducted a study that found that racial stereotypes and discrimination continue to play a role in the process of finding and purchasing a home. For the study, lead researcher and sociology professor, Elizabeth Korver-Glenn shadowed 13 real estate agents and housing developers in the Houston area and conducted interviews with other housing market professionals as well as consumers. She chose Houston because it is the most ethnically diverse city in the country, has no zoning laws, and has relatively affordable housing.
Dr. Korver-Glenn’s study resulted in three conclusions. The first was that racial stereotypes frequently happen in coded ways as well as explicit ways. For example, White realtors often describe minority areas as “dangerous.” The second was that an underwriter, who makes decisions on granting mortgages based on applicant risk, is likely to be influenced by racial stereotypes about income and race. When applying for a loan, applicants have to fill out a federal form that indicates race, ethnicity, and sex. The federal government’s intent was to use this information to monitor inequality, but instead it provides underwriters with racial data that can influence their decisions. The third finding was that as the number of interactions throughout the housing process increases, the likelihood of a minority home buyer being excluded from the process increases as well.
Dr. Korver-Glenn believes that one of the main takeaways from the research “is that segregation and housing inequality are not inevitable, but rather there are specific policies and norms that continue to contribute to it, even if these policies and norms seem to be race neutral.” Even if these norms are race neutral on the surface, “they’re not race neutral in practice, and they have dramatic, unequal effects,” she says.