Housing Discrimination in America

This public syllabus on Housing Discrimination and Poverty in America is a resource created by undergraduate sociology students at Rollins College. This is an educational tool displaying selected resources regarding these issues. The resources and their respective summarizations are organized by source type and explain historical policies, personal accounts, present policies, and the climate of housing discrimination and segregation today. The resources selected vary from primary and secondary sources in the form of journal and news articles, interactive maps, documentaries, speeches, talks, and music. All of these resources can be accessed online free or for purchase. External viewing sites are linked to each source.

This syllabus is a source for anyone to examine the past and current materializations of housing segregation and discrimination in the United States. Below you will find a compilation of sources aimed at uncovering and displaying the inequalities and injustices in our housing system. You will learn that housing issues are the core of a multitude of other socioeconomic inequalities. Please use and share these resources to help educate others.

This syllabus is a public resource for all. Please share and help change our nation for the better.

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These educational resources are divided by source type. All sources are linked via the underlined text. Click any of the boxes to go to a section, or scroll down to view the entire syllabus.



Journal Articles

“New evidence on racial and ethnic disparities in homeownership in the United States from 2001 to 2010” Keubler, Meghan & Rugh, Jacob S. 2013.

Their research question was whether the “democratization” of homeownership actually successfully “reduce racial and ethnic disparities in homeownership”. According to the most recent figures, the homeownership rate among non-Hispanic whites stood at 73.5%, compared to 56.4% among Asian and Pacific Islanders, 46.5% among Hispanics, and 43.8% among blacks.

P.G.A & M.C.G. “Racial Discrimination in Housing”. 1959. University of Pennsylvania Law Review

This article describes the historically evident economic and social barriers in housing for minority groups and explains that a lot of the decision to live in certain residential areas is not rooted in individual choice. Rather, it is rooted in the decision of peripheral others, who won’t sell houses in predominantly white areas to minority groups, who move out of their homes when minority groups move into the neighborhood, and who make legislation restricting minority groups from living in predominantly white neighborhoods. This article claims that Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court Case that established the “separate but equal” clause, “seemed to allow the states to employ segregation policies in their public housing” (1959:517).

Pais, Jeremy. “Intergenerational Neighborhood Attainment and the Legacy of Racial Residential Segregation: A Causal Mediation Analysis”. 2017. Population Association of America.

Pais explains the cyclical nature of the effects of residential segregation: “The neighborhood effects pathway explains why parent’s exposure to racial residential segregation during their family rearing years can influence the residential outcomes of their children later in life” (2017:1221). Pais explains that the neighborhood effects operate through the development of human capital and “through the transmission of local knowledge and customs that influence place attachment and neighborhood stereotyping” (2017:1222). Human capital development is a result of the culmination of environmental factors of a residential area, such as the quality of protection against pollution, education, and law enforcement (2017). Spatial isolation has been proven to hinder cross-cultural ties and relationships, creating larger disparities in acceptance and understanding between groups (2017). These neighborhood effects not only negatively affect the economic, social, and environmental well-being of the current population of those areas but the next generation as well.

Keene, Danya E. et al. “Fragile health and fragile wealth: Mortgage strain among African American homeowners”. 2014. Social Science and Medicine.

This article considers the role racial stratification has had on health, income, and housing, specifically homeownership. The authors explain: “The most recent inequalities in lending are rooted in a history of social policies that first denied African Americans access to credit and then granted it on unequal terms” (2014: 120). Subprime loans were on the rise in the late twentieth century, which created spells of housing fragility for African Americans and other aging populations (2014:120). A lack of access to credit for those in minority groups poses an issue when applying for mortgages, disallowing for them to accumulate wealth, which further exacerbates disparities in income. Inequalities in income then contribute to inequality in access to healthcare and an increased presence in environments that lead to poor health.

Goetz, Edward. 2010. “Gentrification in Black and White: The Racial Impact of Public Housing Demolition in American Cities.Urban Studies. 48(8):1581-1604.

This article details the consequences of gentrification or economic investment in a poor neighborhood that makes it more suitable for the middle class. Gentrification forces the displacement of black families, both directly and indirectly, through the destruction of public housing with a disproportionately high percentage of African American occupants. The state often funds the housing redevelopment, which can shift neighborhoods racial composition from black to white. This article shows the racial dimension to gentrification that can remain unseen when looking only through a socioeconomic lens.

Reardon, Sean F., and Kendra Bischoff. 2011. “Income Inequality and Income Segregation.American Journal of Sociology. 116(4): 1092-1153.

Reardon and Bischoff review data from 1970 to 2000 to track income inequality and income segregation along three dimensions: “the spatial segregation of poverty and affluence, race-specific patterns of income segregation, and the geographic scale of income segregation” (2011). They had four main findings: there is a strong relationship between income inequality and segregation, which negatively affects black families; income inequality affects income segregation through the segregation of affluence, rather than poverty, black and white families have a different relationship of income inequality and income segregation; and income inequality affects income segregation through inequality on larger scale patterns of segregation.


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Roscigno, Vincent J. 2007. The Face of Discrimination: How Race and Gender Impact Work and Home Lives. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Roscigno details in his book the lived realities of discrimination in work and housing, with the basis of his analysis from archived discrimination suits. He explains discrimination in the workplace and its relationship to inequalities in housing. He also details the extent to which discrimination in housing affects the daily lives of minority groups as well as the reasons how and why the discriminatory behaviors persist.

Bell, Jeannine. 2013. Hate Thy Neighbor: Move-in violence and the persistence of racial segregation in American housing. New York: New York University Press.

In her book, Bell takes a more individual level focus on housing discrimination, specifically the patterns of hate crimes known as move-in violence, or the violent reactions of white homeowners to the integration of their communities through minority move-ins. She details their tactics of intimidation and harassment, as well as the lived experience and fear of those targeted by this kind of racial violence. This violence and the processes that enable it to contribute to housing segregation in America, and Bell analyzes the reality of this situation and provides potential solutions.

National Research Council. 2002. Measuring Housing Discrimination in a National Study: Report of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

This book focuses on both questions related to the persistence of housing discrimination as well as methods used to measure inequality, segregation, and discrimination. This book is based on a workshop conducted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to review and improve their Housing Discrimination Survey of racial and ethnic discrimination in the markets of housing rental, sales, and lending.

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News Articles

Dewan, S. “Discrimination in housing against nonwhites persists quietly, U.S. study finds“. June 11, 2013. New York Times.

Dewan reports on the real estate industry’s role in discrimination against non-white buyers. Agents engage in a practice called steering, in which they show white buyers more homes and homes in better neighborhoods. This report found that black buyers were presented with 17% fewer homes than white buyers and Asian buyers with 15% less.

Desmond, Matthew. “How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality”. May 9th, 2017. New York Times.

This New York Times Article describes the differences in standard of living between two families: one of upper-class income, and the other of working class. The first family is African American with four children, all under the age of 9, a yearly income of $290,000, and recently purchased a home, which has greatly increased their current and potential net worth. The other single-headed family of 3 is of Latinx descent with a yearly income of $38,000. Most of that income each month goes toward rent, and the other portion is spent on other living expenses, which leaves no room for saving or investing enough in order to place a down payment on a house. Paying rent doesn’t allow for interest because there isn’t wealth to build upon. The article is a great example of the split between overall economic well being due to investment in a home.

Cox, Wendell. “Progressive Cities: Home of the Worst Housing Inequality”. October 14th, 2017. New Geography.

Surprisingly, as this article points out, the most socially progressive cities are actually those with the highest level of housing inequality. The reasoning behind this is rooted in the presence of urban ghettos and intense poverty in the inner-city residential areas. This intensely concentrated poverty is also associated with racial minority groups: “African-Americans have the largest housing affordability inequality gap…The largest gap is in San Francisco, where the median income African-American household faces median house prices that are 9.3 years of income more than the average” (2017).

Martinovich, Milenko. “Significant Racial and Ethnic Disparities Still Exist, According to Stanford Report”. June 16th, 2017. Stanford News.

This article provides a comprehensive snapshot of statistics about racial and ethnic disparities in housing. One of the most surprising facts is that “less than half of black families (41 percent) and Hispanic families (45 percent) live in owner-occupied housing, as of 2014. For white families, that figure is 71 percent” (2017). This is a clear representation that there is a serious issue when it comes to housing discrimination and lack of access to resources that allow individuals in minority populations to own a house. This statistic and the struggle these individuals face can be traced back to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s home-mortgage expansion, from which minority groups were excluded from participation (2017).

Matthew, Dayna B. et al. “Time for Justice: Tackling Race Inequalities in Health and Housing” October 19th, 2016. Brookings.

The authors of this article introduce the content with this powerful sentence: “the median black American will be as just as far behind their white counterpart in 2017 as they were in 2000 in terms of income, wealth, unemployment, earnings, the risk of incarceration, and many measures of health” (2016). These inequalities, they argue, are a result of invisible, unconscious bias and covert racism, not to mention the lack of attention to these populations from both whites and individuals who identify with minority groups. The allowance of such disparities in health, economic stability, and housing is unseen in white areas and populations, but are overlooked and forgotten when it comes to minority groups, and African Americans especially (2016).

Gross, Terry. “A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America” May 3rd, 2017. National Public Radio: Fresh Air.

Terry Gross interviewed Richard Rothstein in this segment of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air on his new publication, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How the U.S. Government Segregated America. Rothstein’s book examines public policies, such as redlining, that mandated racial and ethnic segregation in the early twentieth century (2017). These policies have had a lasting impact on the local, state, and federal level in terms of apparent inequalities for underrepresented groups, even though said policies are now deemed illegal or unconstitutional. That lasting impact is evident through historical and current access to certain neighborhoods and the inability of African Americans and other minority populations to own houses and build portfolios of wealth.

Editorial Board. 2015. “How Segregation Destroys Black Wealth.” September 15, 2015. The New York Times.

This editorial piece details the effects of housing discrimination, specifically on the ability of black buyers to accumulate wealth in the same way that white buyers do. They report: In 1970, two years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, for example, the average well-off black American lived in a neighborhood where potential home wealth, as measured by property values, stood at about only $50,000 — as opposed to $105,000 for affluent whites and $56,000 for poor whites” (Editorial board, 2015). This difference in wealth due to discrimination has effects that reverberate today.

Demby, Gene. “A Battle For Fair Housing Still Raging but Mostly Forgotten”. December 3rd, 2013. National Public Radio: This American Life.

National Public Radio’s December 3rd, 2013 segment of This American Life tells of the existing inequalities in housing for minority groups. The common belief, especially for white Americans, is that racial segregation and discrimination is a story of the past, something that doesn’t happen anymore. This NPR segment uncovers research and stories that tell a different story: that racial discrimination and segregation in terms of housing and other areas of daily life still persist, just not in the overtly racist ways that they have previously in American history. Author Gene Demby writes: “since property taxes fund local services, places with high property values tend to have much better school systems and public amenities” (2013). These property values have been highly racialized through a long history of local, state, and federal government policies, creating environments that are less than favorable generation after generation.

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Kavanagh, Ben. 2013. A Matter of Place. Kavanagh Productions. Retrieved December 4, 2017 (https://vimeo.com/77785957).

This documentary film was commissioned by the Fair Housing Justice Center to uncover and shine a light on housing discrimination in America. The film follows the history and struggle for fair housing and connects these issues to contemporary struggles regarding housing bias based on disability, race, sexual orientation, and income. The film follows three individuals and their stories involving housing discrimination in present-day New York City. The history of residential segregation is examined by civil rights experts and advocates, sociologists, and fair housing testers. It recounts our overlooked history of housing injustices and examines the systematic injustices that continue today.

Abrams, J. J. 2016. America Divided. USA: Radical Media, Divided Films.

America Divided is a mini docu-series created by EPIX-Original. This eight-story, five part series features narratives from various individuals about inequalities in criminal justice, housing, healthcare, labor, education, and the political system. The eight parts include segments called: A House Divided, The Class Divide, The Epidemic, Democracy For Sale, The System, Out of Reach, Something in the Water, and Home Economics. Featured above is the episode on A House Divided, which follows Norman Lear and the housing crisis in New York City. To stream the entire series, visit American Divided to learn how to watch.

White, James A. 2014. The Little Problem I Had Renting A House.TEDxColumbus. Retrieved December 4, 2017 (https://www.ted.com/talks/james_a_white_sr_the_little_problem_i_had_renting_a_house).

This TEDxColumbus talk by James A. White Sr. examines housing discrimination in the mid-20th century. As an African American and member of the US Air Force, White Sr. struggled to find housing for his family in the 1960’s due to everyday racism. He tells his story and the story of his grandchildren, whom he has had to teach how to interact with police.

Herbes-Sommers, Christine. 2003. The House We Live In: Race–The Power of an Illusion. USA: California Newsreel.

The above video is a compilation of excerpts from the three-part documentary series, Race– The Power of an Illusion, accessed through Vimeo. The series includes 3 episodes: The Difference Between Us, The Story We Tell, and The House We Live In. The episode The House We Live In explores and explains how race is not biological but resides heavily in politics, culture, and economics. The episode explores housing discrimination and segregation in the 20th and 21st century. Click here to see viewing options.

Williams, David R. 2016. How Racism Makes Us Sick. TEDMED 2016. Retrieved December 4, 2017 (https://www.ted.com/talks/david_r_williams_how_racism_makes_us_sick).

David R. Williams reveals a self-developed scale to measure the impact of discrimination on well-being. It reveals how residential segregation, implicit bias, and negative stereotypes create and perpetuate inequality. Williams offers programs around the U.S. that are working to dismantle discrimination.


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Interactive Maps

Nelson, Robert K., LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, and Nathan Connolly. n.d. “Mapping Inequality.” Richmond University. Retrieved December 1, 2017 (https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/).

This interactive map shows housing segregation in New Deal America between 1935 and 1940. This map displays information produced by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation which recruited real estate appraisers, mortgage lenders, and developers from all over the US to create maps that showed the worthiness and risk of neighborhoods through a color-coded methodology. The areas display color-lines, racial groups and environmental risks of individual areas.

Cable, Dustin. 2013. “The Racial Dot Map.” University of Virginia Demographics Research Group. Retrieved December 1, 2017 (http://demographics.coopercenter.org/racial-dot-map/).

The Racial Dot Map displays geographic distribution, population density, and racial diversity in America. The map displays a dot for each person residing in the United States, based on the 2010 Census, and visualizes this information for every neighborhood in the country. Each dot is color-coded by race. To read more about the Racial Dot Map, click here.


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These artists have expressed their distraught through transformative lyrics and visual displays.

Music video: Changes – Tupac, 1998 Interscope Records.

Music video:  Foreclosure of a Dream – Megadeath, 2009.

Music video: Queen (1985) playing “Is This the World We’ve Created?

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