SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — The Bay Area has long had one of the most competitive and expensive rental markets in the country and it’s even more difficult for Black renters to sign a lease in the city, according to a new study.
“If you don’t get a response you have no way of accessing that property,” said Peter Christensen, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois.
Christensen is one of the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that found Black and Hispanic/Latino renters in America’s 50 largest cities are less likely to hear back from rental properties than White renters.
“In almost all of the markets, both African American and Latinx renters received systematically lower response rates to inquiries to the same properties than White renters,” he said.
According to the study, Black renters in San Francisco faced the sixth worst response rate in the country in the experiment conducted over the course of nine months in 2021.
“Discriminatory behavior that is affecting housing access of African American households is pretty strong in San Francisco,” Chistensen added.
A team of computer scientists and economists used online applications to submit inquiries to thousands of apartment and home rental listings nationwide.
Researchers employed software bots assuming fictitious names associated with Black, Hispanic/Latino, and white racial groups to measure the differences in response rates.
The information provided excluded income and family status.
“All of the differences are driven by racialized perceptions on the basis of the names of fictitious individuals making inquiries,” said Christensen.
Cities with higher percentages of segregation ultimately had greater rates of discriminatory behavior.
“We can’t disentangle and say segregation itself is the cause of discrimination, because housing discrimination is also reinforcing segregation,” he said.
A 2018 publication on racial segregation by U.C. Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute found “The San Francisco Bay Area, like most of the United States, is deeply segregated. The Bay Area is visibly segregated at the regional, county, metropolitan, municipal, and neighborhood levels. Each of the nine counties as well as the two major “Metropolitan Statistical Areas” is marked by high levels of racial segregation.”
“It’s pretty shocking that San Francisco is in the top six. In the Bay Area we like to think of ourselves as being more progressive and more open to equal housing opportunity,” said Caroline Peattie, executive director of the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California (FHANC).
FHANC is a fair housing advocacy group serving the North Bay, the organization regularly investigates complaints of rental discrimination.
The findings from this new national study mirrors the claims Peattie has investigated the last two decades.
“What’s clear is that there is so much stereotyping going on. Sometimes it’s conscious, sometimes it’s not so conscious,” she said.
Peattie added rental discrimination comes in many forms and can happen at any point in the process.
“How long it takes for a housing provider to call back. If they’re calling back at all, and what’s being communicated about the availability of one or more units, and the terms and conditions of the application process. If a white renter is given the opportunity to view and apply earlier, that gives them the greater advantage or opportunity to rent the unit,” said Peattie.
The nonprofits are equipped to run rental testing investigations that collect evidence often necessary when filing complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the department of Housing and Urban Development at the federal level.
FHANC regularly performs two types of testing: complaint-based testing and audit or systemic testing.
Complaint-based testing occurs when a renter believes they have been discriminated on the basis of protected class (i.e. race/ethnicity, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, maritial status, age, disability, etc.) and seek to file a complaint. The nonprofit then sends a tester outside of the protected class in question to the same property in a timely manner to rent the same listing to see if they will face the same treatment.
Systemic testing is used to broadly determine compliance with fair housing laws.
Complaints can result in compensations or an injunction to allow the discriminated renter to move into the sought-after property.
Christen hopes the study will lead to changes in how housing market platforms operate.
“How can these platforms be designed in ways that reduce or ideally eliminate discriminatory behavior,” he said.
If you believe you have faced rental discrimination, Peattie recommends you call your local fair housing agency immediately.
Click here to get in contact with the Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.