Ethnic discrimination proves to be a persistent problem in the private rental market. However, little attention has been paid to contexts that might affect discrimination in this area, partly due to the fact that it has not been properly measured in previous studies. In this study, Abel Ghekiere and Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe investigate whether the types of discriminatory behaviour vary and/or are moderated by three types of contextual factors: (1) dwelling indicators, such as the type of dwelling and price category; (2) neighbourhood indicators, such as the socio-economic and ethnic composition of the neighbourhood; and – to the best of their knowledge the first time in research – (3) real estate agency indicators, such as the gender structure and size of the agency. For this purpose, the authors made use of data from 2,014 matched correspondence tests on ethnic discrimination among 493 real estate agencies in Brussels Capital Region in Belgium.
Their findings suggest that candidates of North African origin face differential treatment when searching for an apartment to rent. They measured discrimination through differences in invitation rates, which resulted in fewer invitations for men belonging to a minority group and more invitations for women of the ethnic majority group (native Belgian) in all the tested models.
Additionally, their results suggest that men of North African origin have a higher chance of receiving invitations from realtors when applying for a dwelling in poorer and more ethnically mixed neighbourhoods. This pattern is consistent with the theory that ethnic minorities are steered towards certain neighbourhoods within a city, which perpetuates segregation in the long run. The effects of such practices are disturbing on both the individual and urban levels.
The contextual characteristics analysed in the study show that an important part of the discriminatory process is mitigated by external factors like organisational characteristics, neighbourhood indicators or dwelling features. Additionally, they found that discrimination is higher in smaller and male-dominated real estate offices. Of course, differences in discrimination rates would still exist if professionals acted in a purely isolated way, uninfluenced by the context in which they operated; yet, their results suggest that factors relating to the kind of company in which an agent works and the neighbourhood in which the dwelling is located do influence the discriminatory behaviour of realtors. The authors call for a bigger focus on both spatial and organizational context in research on discrimination.