Volume 28

Qualified Renters Need Not Apply: Race and Housing Voucher Discrimination in the Metropolitan Boston Rental Housing Market

by Jamie Langowski, William Berman, Grace Brittan, Catherine LaRaia, Jee-Yeon Lehmann & Judson Woods

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have long had to navigate the barriers of racist laws, policies, and actions in housing. Housing discrimination perpetuates segregation and contributes to maintaining the status quo of disparities with respect to health inequities as well as income, wealth, and opportunity gaps. The COVID-19 pandemic has put these inequities in stark relief. Data on the current status of such discrimination is valuable for policy makers who should develop anti-racist policies that dismantle structural racism and its attendant harms.

Using matched-pair testing, we measured the level of discrimination based on race and income level in the Greater Boston rental housing market, where both race- and income-based housing discrimination is illegal. Data from the study shows high levels of discrimination against both Black people and individuals using housing vouchers throughout the pre-rental application process, with evidence of race-based discrimination in 71% of tests and voucher-based discrimination in 86% of the tests. In the vast majority of cases, real estate professionals discriminated against Black people and voucher holders, beginning with the initial interaction and continuing throughout the process. The promises of the Fourteenth Amendment, Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the Fair Housing Act remain unfulfilled, caught in a cycle of new forms of discriminatory behavior and enactment of policies and laws that are ineffective in combating discrimination. Policy makers should heed the findings from this study and work to enact measures that can curb housing discrimination effectively.