The blog of the Urban Institute
April 30, 2021

More Than 50 Years after the Fair Housing Act, More Action Is Needed to Address Housing Discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

The conclusion of Fair Housing Month and beginning of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month provide an important opportunity to consider the barriers to equal opportunity that have long been faced by Asian Americans. Although the past year brought increased attention on anti-Asian racism, the “othering” of Asian Americans has contributed to disinvestment in historically Asian communities, displacement of longtime residents, and discrimination.    

Some forms of discrimination are not readily apparent, even to those it affects. Housing discrimination based on race is a case in point. It has been illegal for decades—this April marks the 53rd anniversary the Fair Housing Act, which former President Johnson signed into law on April 11, 1968—yet it persists.

The Urban Institute’s national studies of housing discrimination have documented differential treatment of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), compared with white Americans, in rental and sales markets. For these studies, two testers—one AAPI and one white—posed as equally qualified homeseekers and responded to advertisements for available properties to rent or purchase. Testers attempted to secure an in-person appointment and then meet with a housing provider to learn about and see available units. Testers never signed or otherwise entered into any legally binding agreement for renting or buying a unit.

The studies showed that though the most blatant discriminatory treatment by rental property managers or real estate agents declined over time (refusing to meet with a homeseeker or to provide any information on available housing units), discrimination with a smile (agreeing to meet with but providing less information to AAPIs) still occurred. And these subtle discriminatory acts affect people’s housing options and the time—and cost—required to find a place to live.

The studies found that AAPIs were treated less favorably than white people when searching for housing. In the most recent study, AAPI testers were told about 9.8 percent fewer available rental properties than comparably qualified white counterparts and were shown 6.6 percent fewer units. The difference in treatment was especially notable in the sales market, where testing found that AAPI testers were told about 15.5 percent fewer available properties for sale than their white counterparts and were shown 18.8 percent fewer properties. Differences in treatment were found across the country.

Discrimination in housing markets is compounded by the myth that Asian Americans are not discriminated against. Because of this assumption—a cousin to the model minority stereotype—fair housing advocates’ enforcement and education efforts may not always include AAPI communities. It also influences how policymakers shape a range of housing-related policies.

Marcia Fudge, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) made clear early on that her priorities include working to end housing discrimination. This commitment would bring much-needed support and attention to equal access to housing. Concrete actions could include the following:

  • encouraging members of AAPI communities to file complaints with HUD of suspected housing discrimination through public service announcements and other education and outreach efforts
  • increasing funding for the enforcement of federal, state, and local fair housing laws to make it clear that discrimination against AAPI homeseekers will not be tolerated
  • conducting paired testing at the city, state, and national levels to examine the persistence and forms of housing discrimination against AAPIs (relative to the last major study)

Federal leadership and broader public awareness of the discrimination faced by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can help support and spur action by advocates and policymakers at all levels to move us closer to the promise of the Fair Housing Act.


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