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December 6, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm CST

Speaker Series: Eva Rosen

Sociology, Georgetown University
Racial Discrimination in Housing: How Landlords use Algorithms and Home Visits to Screen Tenants
Eva Rosen
Hybrid: Virtual/In-Person (ABF Offices, 750 N Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor Chicago, IL)

An extensive literature documents racial discrimination in housing, focusing on its prevalence and effect on non-White populations. This article studies how such discrimination operates, and the intermediaries who engage in it: landlords. A fundamental assumption of racial discrimination research is that gatekeepers such as landlords are confronted with a racially heterogeneous applicant pool. The reality of urban housing markets, however, is that historical patterns of residential segregation intersect with other structural barriers to drive selection into the applicant pool, such that landlords are more often selecting between same-race applicants.

Using interviews and observations with 157 landlords in four cities, we ask: how do landlords construct their tenants’ race within racially segmented housing markets, and how does this factor into their screening processes? We find that landlords distinguish between tenants based on the degree to which their behavior conforms to insidious cultural narratives at the intersection of race, gender, and class. Landlords with large portfolios rely on screening algorithms, whereas mom-and-pop landlords make decisions based on informal mechanisms such as “gut feelings,” home visits, and the presentation of children. Landlords may put aside certain racial prejudices when they have the right financial incentives, but only when the tenant also defies stereotypes. In this way, landlords’ intersectional construction of race—even within a predominantly Black or Latino tenant pool—limits residential options for low-income, subsidized tenants of color, burdening their search process. These findings have implications for how we understand racial discrimination within racially homogenous social spheres. Examining landlords’ screening practices offers insight into the role housing plays in how racism continues to shape life outcomes—both explicitly through overt racial bias, and increasingly more covertly, through algorithmic automation and digital technologies.

To register, contact Sophie Kofman at skofman@abfn.org


Eva Rosen is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, and Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Sociology. Her research is focused on social inequality in the urban context. In particular, she studies the intersection between poverty and American housing policy. Rosen was on research leave during the academic year 2022-2023 as a Visiting Fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation.

Rosen received her doctorate in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard University. In 2018, she was named one of APPAM’s outstanding early career scholars and received their 40 for 40 Fellowship. Rosen is a member of the Scholar Strategy Network. She has published papers in academic journals including the American Sociological Review, City & Community, The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and The Annual Review of Law and Social Science. Rosen’s work has been funded by: The National Science Foundation, The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), The Joint Center for Housing Studies, The Furman Center, The Meyer Foundation, and The Harvard Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy, among others.

Rosen’s recent book, The Voucher Promise: “Section 8” Housing and the Fate of an American Neighborhood (Princeton University Press, 2020), is the winner of the Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility Outstanding Book Award from the ASA and the Paul Davidoff Award from the ACSP. The book examines the Housing Choice Voucher Program, colloquially known as “Section 8,” and how it shapes the lives of families living in a Baltimore neighborhood called Park Heights. Eva Rosen tells stories about the daily lives of homeowners, voucher holders, renters who receive no housing assistance, and the landlords who provide housing. 

Her new edited volume, with Brian McCabe, called The Sociology of Housing: How Homes Shape Our Social Lives, will be released in fall 2023 with Chicago University Press. With this volume, the editors and contributors solidify the importance of housing studies within the discipline of sociology by tackling topics like racial segregation, housing instability, the supply of affordable housing, and the process of eviction.

Current work examines low-income housing and the role that landlords play in four urban housing markets. Another ongoing project maps eviction trends in the District of Columbia with sociology professor Brian McCabe.