More discrimination on rental market in ‘white neighbourhoods,’ study shows

More discrimination on rental market in ‘white neighbourhoods,’ study shows
Credit: Belga

Discrimination against ethnic minorities on the rental market happens more frequently in predominantly white neighbourhoods, shows a study carried out by the Brussels VUB university.

Various academic studies have previously shown that ethnic minority groups structurally have more difficulties in finding a place to rent, but VUB sociologists Billie Martiniello and Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe wanted to find out what factors actually contribute to this phenomenon, reports De Morgen.

“As soon as more than 30% of a neighbourhood is made up of ethnic minorities, discrimination goes down,” Martiniello told the newspaper. “Landlords often have little information about candidates and are then guided by prejudices.”

Their research focused on the city of Antwerp, and had two candidates with a similar profile, except for their ethnic background, apply for the same advertisements. They found that if the neighbourhood where the rental property was located had fewer people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, the greater the chance of discrimination.

Ekeren vs. Linkeroever

In the centre of Ekeren, Donk and Mariaburg (traditionally predominantly white areas on the outskirts of Antwerp) the quest was much more difficult for minorities than in Linkeroever or in the centre of Hoboken, both known as very ethnically diverse districts. Similar studies in other parts of the country showed the same tendency.

According to Martiniello and Verhaeghe, the explanation for the location-related discrimination lies partly in the estimations of estate agents. They often assume that white prospective tenants prefer to live in neighbourhoods with residents who resemble them ethnically.

Still, they warn that this is not without consequences: the preference for homogenous groups can eventually lead to de facto residential segregation. Therefore, the researchers argue for “discrimination field tests,” in which fictitious applications are used to check whether employers or landlords are guilty of discriminatory practices.

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The Conservative Flemish Housing Minister Matthias Diependaele (N-VA), however, is vehemently opposed to this. “The Government sends out the wrong signal when it tries to lure its own citizens into a trap with lies,” his cabinet told De Morgen, adding that these tests do not lead to changes in behaviour.

The researchers disagree with Diependaele’s stance, arguing that the results of these field tests can be used to make it clear to landlords or estate agents that the existing structures are necessary.

They do not have to lead to immediate punishments for Verhaeghe, but he did say that there should be consequences for those who continue to discriminate. “There has been a non-policy for five to ten years when it comes to the housing market, the tests can be an addition.”

In a reaction on Twitter, Flemish Minister for Coexistence Bart Somers pointed out that Flemish cities and municipalities are encouraged to introduce “correspondence tests” (which test whether there is systematic discrimination in an area, municipality, city…) to reduce discrimination in their rental or labour market.

Unlike the discrimination field tests proposed by the researchers, these correspondence tests do not target individual landlords or employers, but instead aggregate results per district, province or region to raise awareness about the issue.

“We want to roll out correspondence tests through the local authorities, among other things. 11 cities and municipalities, including Antwerp and Mechelen, are already doing this,” Somers said. “The others can sign up until 1 July. This is not a miracle cure, but it is part of the solution.”


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