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The Complexities and Processes of Racial Housing Discrimination

Vincent J. Roscigno, Diana L. Karafin, Griff Tester
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/sp.2009.56.1.49 49-69 First published online: 1 February 2009


Housing represents an important arena within which racial inequalities continue to manifest—a fact highlighted in housing audit studies and the substantial literature on racial residential segregation. In this article, we extend the insights of prior work by: (1) denoting the wide range of "exclusionary" discriminatory practices that transpire at distinct stages of the rental/sales process and that are too varied to be captured by any singular audit design; (2) analyzing something that audits simply cannot, namely discrimination that occurs within already established housing arrangements (i.e., nonexclusionary discrimination). We draw from qualitative and quantitative data truly unique to the literature, reflecting approximately 750 instances of housing discrimination—discrimination verified by civil rights investigators following state and federal guidelines. Quantitative patterns denote unique and disparate vulnerability, especially for African American women, and the centrality of powerful institutional (i.e., banks, realtors, insurance companies, etc.) and more proximate actors (i.e., landlords and neighbors) in reifying racial disadvantage. Landlords are clearly on the "front line" with regard to both exclusionary and nonexclusionary forms. Neighbors, realtors, banks, and mortgage companies play a role as well, more or less, depending on the form of discrimination being examined. Qualitative immersion into case materials offers important insight on relevant processes pertaining to victim vulnerability and status, and how discriminatory actions themselves occur. We conclude by discussing the implications of our arguments and findings for future analyses of race and housing inequality, and for understanding stratification and its microinteractional dimensions generally.

  • discrimination
  • housing
  • race
  • inequality
  • social closure

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