Giving Compass' Take:

• Claudia Aranda shares changes that need to happen in order to overcome ongoing housing discrimination in 2019. 

• How can you best leverage your assets to address housing discrimination? What partnerships could help you address these issues? 

• Learn about the relationship between rent control and affordable housing

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced charges against Facebook for violating the Fair Housing Act by “encouraging, enabling, and causing” housing discrimination through the company’s advertising platform, which limits who can view housing ads.

The charge asserts Facebook allowed advertisers to exclude people based on characteristics covered by the act: race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex, and disability.

HUD also claims that even when advertisers sought to reach broader audiences, Facebook combined data about demographic characteristics with information about users’ likes and interests to restrict information to homeseekers about housing options.

HUD’s charge comes on the heels of the announcement earlier last month that Facebook settled discrimination claims alleged by civil rights organizations over the same practices. As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed to no longer allow housing, employment, or credit ads to be targeted to users by age, gender, or zip codes.

Although Facebook may be the first tech company whose advertising practices have been challenged by HUD, similar practices by Twitter and Google have also been under review.  If these tech giants have effectively established an industry standard for advertising on their sites, limiting what information is accessible to whom, other tech firms are likely engaging in the same discriminatory practices.

Unbeknownst to them, individual homeseekers are denied critical information about housing choices across multiple online platforms.

As Diane K. Levy and I wrote last year on the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, Facebook’s approach to housing ads illustrates how housing discrimination continues to evolve. Although difficult—if not impossible—for someone to detect, these discriminatory practices may have implications for where someone ultimately lives and their ability to access opportunities for employment, schools, and transportation.

Paired testing is a powerful tool for detecting and documenting discrimination. But it does not fully explain or begin to address long-standing patterns of residential segregation and economic disparity. And as the ways people research and find housing change, so must our approaches to measuring discrimination and enforcing fair housing policies.

To overcome ongoing housing discrimination and the legacy of exclusionary land use and zoning policies, we need a multipronged strategy that includes the following:

  • the vigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination protections and proactive testing to uncover otherwise undetected forms of differential treatment, including on social media and other online platforms
  • public education and outreach to residents about housing rights and opportunities and what to do if they suspect or witness unfair treatment in any venue
  • incentives to encourage affordable housing development and neighborhood reinvestment and to reach and serve historically underserved communities

Read the full article about housing discrimination in 2019 by Claudia Aranda at Urban Institute.