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Study: Housing Discrimination Alive and Well


What’s in a name? Maybe plenty if you want to rent an apartment. An Oregon State University survey found that an ethnic-sounding name can be a factor in whether an applicant gets an apartment.

A rental housing applicants thought to be Black faces more housing discrimination than one thought to be White or Arab, according to the results published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. The study, co-authored by Dr. William E. Loges, an OSU assistant professor in new media communications and sociology, sought and found differences in replies to online housing inquiries from people with names associated with Whites, Arabs and Blacks.

“My jaw just hit the floor when I saw these results. I had no idea how badly the African-American inquiry would be treated,” Loges says. In 2003, Loges and study co-author Adrian G. Carpusor sent 1,115 identically worded e-mails to Los Angeles-area landlords asking about advertised vacancies.

They were divided equally among names signed Patrick McDougall, Tyrell Jackson and Said Al-Rahman. The fictional names were based on U.S. Census Bureau rankings of popular first and last names and other factors.

McDougall received positive or encouraging responses from 89 percent of landlords, while Al-Rahman was encouraged by 66 percent. But only 56 percent of the responses for Jackson were positive.

Because the data was collected near the start of the Iraq War, researchers said they thought Al-Rahman would receive the fewest positive responses.

They were wrong.

The authors had expected to find more discrimination by private landlords than corporate leasing companies, but did not.

“There was little difference at all,” Loges says. “We thought that some of the bigger corporate complexes, which have hundreds and hundreds of units, would be more professionally run. They would have the resources to train their staffs on residential discrimination law.”

The Fair Housing Act prohibits denying housing based on a name.

“Names are powerful indicators of who we are,” says Carpusor, a  former student of Loges and now a researcher with JD Power & Associates. “A recent interview on National Public Radio pointed out that a first name in Iraqi culture could disclose one’s affiliation with either the Shiite or Sunni Muslims. Sixteen men named Omar were killed one day because of that affiliation.”

Rent varied from $1,000 to more than $1,500 for the one-bedroom apartments sought, but that made no difference. Tyrell Jackson was the only name to receive responses reiterating the amount of rent, perhaps questioning his ability to pay it.

Loges and Carpusor concluded that online apartment inquires do not protect people from prejudices and advise people to disclose as little as possible in their initial inquires, including their names.

— Associated Press


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