How race effects chosing a house

The Houston Chronicle contains an interview with sociologist Michael Emerson about a forthcoming study (to be published in Social Forces) regarding housing choice and race.

First, a bit about the methodology of the study:

Researchers for the Institute for Urban Research at Rice University asked that question to 1,000 whites, 1,000 African-Americans and 1,000 Hispanics in Harris County to determine whether race makes a difference when they select homes and neighborhoods, independent of crime, housing prices and schools…

The housing questions were part of 30-minute interviews conducted for the annual Houston Area Survey. Respondents were asked to imagine they were looking for a house and found one they liked in their price range. They then were presented with computer-generated, random scenarios of school quality, property values, crime rate and racial makeup, and asked the likelihood that they would buy the house.

By using hypothetical situations, researchers were able to isolate the effect of certain factors, such as the racial composition of a neighborhood or the crime rate.

Here is a quick summary of the findings, according to Emerson:

For whites, the percentage of African-American or Hispanic matters significantly. They’re more and more averse to buying a house in a neighborhood as the percentage of African-Americans or Hispanics increases, even when crime is low, property values are increasing, and the local schools are of high quality.

The other result we found was for African-Americans in the Houston area, they’re sensitive to the percent Asian. So as the percent Asian increases, the less likely they are to say they want to buy the house.

And for Hispanics, the racial composition did not impact their preference for buying the home.

One other way to understand how strong the impact is, for whites: The likelihood they wouldn’t want to buy the house when there was racial diversity was equal to the likelihood they wouldn’t want to buy when the crime rate was high.

These findings are similar to those of other studies: Whites prefer not to choose a neighborhood with a certain number of African-Americans and Hispanics, even if the neighborhood has other positive features. The findings about other races are interesting as well – a lot of the housing literature focuses on the preferences of whites which makes sense as they are still the largest group and historically and today tend to have more wealth. But it is important to know the preferences of African-Americans and Hispanics, particularly as the Hispanic population grows.

Interestingly, the racial composition of the neighborhood does not appear to matter to Hispanics. I am curious to see what Emerson and his co-authors suggest is behind this.

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