We are pleased to announce that on May 11th, BIRMM member Abel Ghekiere successfully defended his PhD titles "Better Luck Next Time... New Methodological Approached to Understanding and Reducing the Mechanisms of rental Discrimination". On behalf of everyone at BIRMM we congratulate Abel on this wonderful achievement!
Despite the importance of equal access to housing, research is still in the early stages of understanding the behavior that leads to discrimination in rental applications. This contrasts with other markets, such as the labor market, which have been more extensively studied in terms of mechanisms of discrimination. Discrimination in housing is high and prevalent in all areas measured, with ethnic origin being a significant factor. In the context of this dissertation, Belgium, discrimination rates with real estate agents can be as high as 20% for ethnic minority candidates, but this figure is only for the first stage of the rental process, and discrimination rates in the following stages are likely to be higher. The aim of this dissertation is to gain insight into the mechanisms of ethnic discrimination in order to reduce discriminatory behavior in the rental housing market. The main research objective is divided into four sub-questions and seven academic papers.
We introduce two new methods, mystery mails and factorial survey experiments, to understand the mechanisms of discrimination in rental applications. The study finds that real estate agents are very willing to exclude ethnic minority rental candidates from the selection process and hinder their application for a rental property at the request of the property owner. The results of the vignette experiment show that personal preferences have the largest impact on invitation rates of rental candidates. To counter these mechanisms of exclusion, we tested the effects of a training intervention. The training results in a decrease in discrimination through invitation rates and a decreased impact of a discriminatory request on the assessment of ethnic minority candidates by the participant.
All results from the dissertation show that the intersection of ethnic origin and income is prominent in the assessment of a rental candidate and has a large impact on the discrimination rates. Ethnic minority candidates with low income are disproportionately punished.
The conclusion shows that the gatekeeper in the rental market is highly influenced by individual, contextual, and institutional factors in decision-making, involving biased selection and interaction with clients. The dissertation uncovers a landscape of the housing market that is detrimental in all aspects for vulnerable groups, who experience exclusion from the first stage of the rental process in multiple forms, influenced by multiple characteristics that could amplify the unequal treatment by the gatekeeper. The author suggests that formalization and more training interventions focusing on skills are needed to combat unequal invitation rates in rental applications and interactions with discriminatory clients.
Promotors: prof. dr. Pieter-Paul Verhaeghe (VUB) and prof. dr. Stijn Baert (UGent)