People in Houston, Texas wait to be rescued after Hurricane Harvey flooded the area in August 2017. Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images
In major U.S. cities, black and brown neighborhoods face higher levels of climate change flooding than white neighborhoods because of the racist legacy of redlining, says a company sued in federal court for allegedly keeping that legacy alive.
Redlining was a housing policy of the 1930s with governments deliberately denying mortgages to people living in undesirable areas that were typically non-white areas. These redlined neighborhoods now have $ 107 billion worth of homes that are at risk of severe water damage – 25 percent more than the largely white areas that were not affected by redlining. according to a new study published by Seattle-based real estate agent Redfin.
The study, A Racist Past, A Flooded Future, made no mention of Redfin being accused in court of perpetuating the same racial inequalities it is trying to draw attention to. In a lawsuit launched last fall, the National Fair Housing Alliance and nine other fair housing organizations claim The real estate company has practices that “represent a redlining of real estate in the digital age”.
“Redfin Corporation offers its real estate services in predominantly white neighborhoods far more frequently than in color communities, maintaining the strong patterns of housing segregation that continue to plague our nation,” the lawsuit said.
Redfin says there is no contradiction between the lawsuit and her new study. “We’re always excited to have the opportunity to work with fair housing managers to address tough issues,” a spokesman told VICE News. “For many years, Redfin has been a leading voice in the industry advocating policies that make real estate fairer, and that includes our coverage of race and real estate.”
But follow a two year investigation, the National Fair Housing Alliance noticed, that 71 percent of homes in predominantly white Chicago areas received Redfin ‘s “Best Available Service,” which included connecting buyers and sellers with Redfin agents, while only 18 percent of homes in predominantly non-white zip codes qualified.
About 33 percent of homes in the more racially diverse areas were not at all qualified for Redfin services, while only 4.5 percent of the predominantly white areas were. Homes must be listed at a reserve price to qualify for Redfin. However, the research found that the criteria were more flexible and easier to meet in whiter areas.
“A neighborhood that is mostly white, even if it has some lower property values, would get an exception,” said Audrey McFarlane, assistant dean of the faculty of research and development and professor of law at the University of Baltimore watch closely the lawsuit. “There is a market premium for white.”
Redfin has more awareness than most real estate companies, the damage that racist investment decisions can cause. However, the most recent study does not recognize Redfin’s potential role in the segregation of housing, although the study calculates in detail the serious climate impacts of this segregation.
These consequences are particularly acute in Chicago, according to Redfin. “In dollars, Chicago has $ 19.7 billion worth of high-risk homes in red and yellow lines compared to $ 3.6 billion in green and blue lines,” said it in the study.
That’s because racist housing policies helped push blacks in areas with denser and older housing as well less green space to absorb heavier rainfall due to climate change and poorer drainage systems. A long legacy of divestment means deprived neighborhoods in the US have less financial resources to deal with the severe damage caused by floods and other climate-related disasters, the Redfin study said.
“There’s that need for awareness,” Redfin’s senior economist Schery Bokhari told VICE News. “Now that we think so much about climate change and the need to address it, there is this disproportionate impact on minority communities that we need to watch out for.”
Housing advocates say we also need to watch out for Redfin’s own practices.
“Redlining and the associated segregation of residential areas is America’s oldest racist and discriminatory real estate policy. The fact that these actions are still taking place, let alone by a large corporation, shows why we need strong civil rights protection now more than ever, ”said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. has argued.
This pattern of disproportionate listing of white houses is also playing out in Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Long Island, Louisville, Memphis, Milwaukee, Newark, and Philadelphia, as the group claims, resulting in many people of color not using Redfin in their home can sell. Several of these cities, like Redfin Remarksare also exposed to the most racially disparate flood risks.
“The challenge is we don’t know how to sell the lowest price homes while paying our agents and other employees a living wage with health insurance and other benefits,” said Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin wrote in a company email responded to the lawsuit last year. “Because of this, Redfin agents aren’t always in inexpensive areas. That’s why Redfin doesn’t serve many rural towns. “
“We have a long history of expanding into cheaper communities,” he added. “We want to expand faster.”
The lawsuit is still ongoing. The National Fair Housing Alliance said Over the past month, the leadership of both organizations has been in contact to further discuss the concerns that have been identified.
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