Apartment rental ads encourage segregation, according to UW study | KNKX

Apartment rental ads encourage segregation, according to UW study

Aug 27, 2020

In a mostly white neighborhood, you'll see phrases like "vintage charm" and "classic" when searching rental advertisements. In neighborhoods that are predominantly people of color, you're more likely to see an apartment advertised as "safe and secure" and "convenient transportation."

These are examples of what University of Washington researchers found when they analyzed a year's worth of rental ads for Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue on Craigslist. 

Researchers say even though the language isn't overtly or consciously racist, it reveals a racialized approach to neighborhoods that fosters segregation.

The study, published in the journal Social Forces, illustrates the difference in rental descriptions based on a neighborhood's racial composition. Interactive graphics included in a release from the University of Washington allow users to filter data based on some of the terms analyzed, including a map showing the distribution of terms and topics across neighborhoods of varying demographics. 

An interactive map from the researchers shows how terms and topics analyzed in the study are distributed among neighborhoods, revealing patterns based on demographics.
Credit Courtesy of University of Washington

In combing through 45,000 ads between March 2017 and September 2018, researchers noticed that in white neighborhoods the focus was on being part of a vibrant community with words such as "walkability" used, while the focus in non-white neighborhoods was features of the unit without mentioning the neighborhood.  Researchers say phrases such as "safe and secure" imply the nearby environment isn't safe, and focusing on "convenient transportation" is telling people how to leave the neighborhood not stay and enjoy it.

Credit University of Washington

Seattle had a long history of racist redlining practices that prevented people of color from living in certain neighborhoods. Researcher Ian Kennedy, a graduate student at the UW and lead author of the study, said the rental ads help perpetrate segregation of neighborhoods.

"We all make housing choices, and those choices we make affect segregation. We should know if we're making choices based on racialized discourse," Kennedy said. "A racialized society can be perpetuated through means that aren't clearly conscious."

The study references a proactive approach that the Chicago suburb Oak Park took to integrate the community there, by working with real estate agents, landlords and prospective tenants on changing perceptions.