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"Diverse Neighborhoods: The (mis)Match Between Attitudes and Actions,"

by Maria Krysan, Esther Havekes & Michael D. M. Bader July/August 2015 issue of Poverty & Race

One of HUD’s four programmatic goals is to “Build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.” In 2013, HUD’s Office of PD&R issued a five-year Research Roadmap that highlighted the importance of—but lack of research about—the housing search process of racial and ethnic minorities and in particular as it relates to residential segregation and stratification processes. As the Roadmap (HUD Research Roadmap FY2014-FY2018, 2013, p. 98, available at points out: “HUD does not know how households search for housing and what their preferences are when searching for housing.” Understanding this critical process is foundational for a number of core HUD programs and policies, including the Housing Choice Voucher program, housing integration strategies, and discrimination testing and enforcement. In a forthcoming research article ("Realizing racial and ethnic neighborhood preferences? Exploring the mismatches between what people want, where they search and where they live,” to appear in Population Research and Policy Review, published by Springer), which I wrote together with Esther Havekes and Michael D.M. Bader, we heed this call, using an innovative survey conducted in Chicago. We provide compelling patterns that reveal salient racial and ethnic differences in terms of the relationship between where people want to live, where they live, and, importantly, where they look to live. That is, mismatches between their attitudes toward living in diverse neighborhoods and their actions, reflected in the kinds of neighborhoods in which they search and live. What is new about this study is that for the first time we have detailed data on the places people searched for housing—and we are then able to explore how the racial composition of those locations relates to what they say they want and where they actually live. Because our interest is in how this speaks to the stubbornly persistent patterns of racial segregation in Chicago and other major U.S. cities, we examine the attitudes and actions related to a neighborhood’s racial/ethnic composition in particular.

Our data come from a random sample of people aged 21 and older who live in households in Cook County (which includes the city of Chicago) who were interviewed in their homes between August 2004 and August 2005. The survey touched on a variety of topics related to neighborhoods, preferences and housing searches, including (1) a measure asking people to create a neighborhood with their ideal racial/ethnic composition; (2) a map showing 41 communities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area that they used to identify communities where they searched during the previous 10 years; and (3) their current residence (so that we could use Census data to determine the racial/ethnic composition of their current neighborhood).

The first salient pattern from our data is that people from all three major racial/ethnic groups in the Chicago area (whites, blacks, and Latinos) report a preference for a diverse neighborhood (see first column of charts in the Figure). Whites report a preference for the greatest percentage of their own group—at 46% white residents, the neighborhood falls just short, on average, of being majority white. But whites are the largest group. African Americans and Latinos also create ideal neighborhoods where their own group is the largest—but at, on average, 37% and 32%, respectively, their own group is not the numerical majority. The rest of the neighborhood—for whites, blacks, and Latinos—is comprised of about equal percentages of the other groups they were invited to include (the options they were given were: Hispanics, Arab Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and whites).

With these attitudes for a rather remarkable level of neighborhood diversity in mind, we now turn to the two related actions for which we have data. Specifically, how do these attitudes relate to (1) the racial composition of the person’s current neighborhood; and, most importantly, (2) where people actually searched for housing. We can examine the level of matches or mismatches. That is, to what extent do people search in the kinds of neighborhoods they say they prefer and, then, to what extent do these search locations match or mismatch the neighborhoods in which people actually live?

What we discover is that the kind of (mis)match varies depending on the searcher’s race/ethnicity. Beginning with whites, the clear message is that although whites say they want to live in diverse neighborhoods, the places where they search for housing are clearly less diverse—compare the fact that the average white searcher says they want, on average, just 46% of their neighbors to be white, but they search in neighborhoods that are on average 68% white (see Column 2 in the Figure). Perhaps not surprisingly, their current neighborhoods reflect the fact that they searched in whiter communities: The average white searcher lives in a neighborhood that is fully 74% white (see Column 3 in the Figure).

For African Americans and Latinos, the plot is different but the punchline the same as for whites. On the one hand, all three groups fail to live in the racially diverse neighborhoods that they say they want. But the plot differs because both African Americans’ and Latinos’ search locations match quite closely their attitudes—a pattern that was not true for whites. Specifically, Blacks say they want, on average, a 37% black neighborhood and they search in neighborhoods that are on average about that level, 40% black (see Column 2 in the Figure). Where things fall apart for African Americans is in the step from searching to moving—despite searching in diverse neighborhoods, blacks end up living in neighborhoods that are on average 66% black (see Column 3 in the Figure). A similar, though less extreme pattern occurs for Latinos: They search in diverse neighborhoods where Latinos are, on average, just 32% of the residents (thus matching their stated preferences), but they end up living in just over majority Latino (51%) neighborhoods (Column 3 in the Figure).1

Whites’ most salient mismatch is between where they say they want to live and where they search—and then live. But African Americans and Latinos experience the greater mismatch at a later stage—they search in the diverse neighborhoods they say they want, but for some reason they end up moving into less diverse neighborhoods. The reasons for these mismatches are not clear in our data, but there are several possibilities. Whites may be overstating a desire to live in racially diverse neighborhoods out of social desirability pressures in the direction of feeling a need to report to their interviewer that they want a diverse neighborhood. But their actions speak louder than these words.2 Alternatively, whites may have “blind spots” to racially diverse neighborhoods—meaning that their knowledge of the different communities and neighborhoods in their region is limited and they are unaware of where to search for the diverse neighborhoods they say they want (see P&R, Vol. 17, No. 5, 2008). Finally, it may also be that the diverse neighborhoods that they are aware of lack other features and amenities they desire, so they are not part of their search.

The explanation of the mismatches for Latinos and African Americans are different, since the mismatch occurs at a later stage. Most important, our study contradicts the central tenet of those who argue that minorities “self-segregate”: Not only do African Americans and Latinos report a desire for diverse neighborhoods, but by and large they succeed in searching in neighborhoods that match that desire. The question is—what happens between the search and the move that results in African Americans and Latinos living in less diverse neighborhoods than they desire and in which they search? It may be that African Americans and Latinos search in these communities, and they learn something about the communities that makes them undesirable. Alternatively, they may experience hostility or discrimination when searching in these neighborhoods, thus creating barriers that impede them from translating their attitudes into actions.

Although these results are not conclusive, the patterns point both to an area ripe for future research and policy implications. For whites, as noted above, one explanation for the mismatch is that whites may be unaware of communities that are diverse—and these blind spots explain the disjuncture between attitudes and action. If this is part of the answer, then one policy implication is that racially diverse neighborhoods need to market themselves more effectively to potential new residents of all races/ethnicities, but perhaps especially to whites. The results for African Americans and Latinos suggest a different point of intervention—that between the search and the move. This pattern suggests that for Blacks and Latinos the policy interventions should focus on what happens between the search and the move, since they say—and try to act on—their preferences for more diversity. The nature of the intervention would depend on whether the decision not to move into a place that was searched in was an outgrowth of discriminatory treatment (pointing to a need for stepped up enforcement) or other barriers. The results point to the continued importance of HUD’s call for research on the role of the housing search process in the building of inclusive communities. All groups report wanting to live in more diverse neighborhoods than they currently live in; policies need to figure out ways to make it possible for people to translate those attitudes into actions—actions that will, in the aggregate, help to foster the inclusive communities that HUD—and our nation—envisions.

For further reading:
Lareau, Annette & Kimberly Goyette, editors. 2014. Choosing Homes, Choosing Schools. New York: Russell Sage Foundation

1 Although the results reported here are for average percentages within each racial/ethnic group, parallel analyses that look at the percentage of respondents within a racial/ethnic group whose stated preference, search locations, and current neighborhoods are +/-15% points show the same pattern. These detailed results will be reported in the published article.

2 Although this may be due in part to a lack of neighborhoods available that match their preferences, we note that the map of 41 communities that we presented to respondents over-represented racially diverse communities so that there were communities that matched their stated preferences (see published article for more details).

Maria Krysan is a Prof. at the Inst. of Government and Public Affairs and the Dept. of Sociology at the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago. She studies racial residential segregation and racial attitudes, with a recent emphasis on the housing search process.
Esther Havekes is a postdoctoral researcher in the Dept. of Sociology at Utrecht Univ. and the Interuniversity Ctr. for Social Science Theory and Methodology (ICS). She is interested in topics at the interface of sociology and (social & urban) geography, such as racial and ethnic concentration, neighborhood disorder and residential mobility.
Michael D. M. Bader is an Assistant Prof. of sociology at American Univ. in Washington, DC where he is also a Faculty Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Ctr. He studies neighborhood racial and economic change in post-Civil Rights era American cities.

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