Residential Segregation and Housing Discrimination in Sarasota County

by Juliana Musheyev Juliana Musheyev has recently graduated from New College of Florida with a degree in Sociology. She has a passion for social justice and equality, and community engagement.

Let’s talk about race. I know it’s hard, I know it’s uncomfortable, but it is important. The facts are there, easily accessible for anyone who cares to look: we do not live in a post-racial society. We could look at incarceration rates, household income, high school graduation rates, unemployment rates, etc.; in all of these aspects, people of color are at a disadvantage. One of the biggest issues that has perpetuated racial inequality in the United States has been the residential segregation along racial lines. Since the 1930’s, the geographic segregation of African-American people has been slow and deliberate. Segregation first occurred by legal means such as exclusionary covenants and redlining. After the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, these methods became illegal. However, just like the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, simply passing a piece of legislation was not enough to affect change. The enforcement of the Fair Housing Act was and is lacking and largely inconsistent.

Residential Segregation in Sarasota County

Geographic segregation along racial and class lines is still an issue in the United States, and Sarasota is no exception. How segregated is Sarasota County? Racial distribution is measured using a dissimilarity index, which ranges from 0 (fully segregated), to 100 (fully integrated). One way to interpret this measure is the percentage of the minority population that would have to move in order to achieve full integration. A dissimilarity score less than 30 represents low segregation, 30 to 60 represents moderate segregation, and 60 to 100 represent high segregation. The table below shows the dissimilarity index rankings in Sarasota County from 2010. With a DI ranking of 55.6%, Sarasota County is close to being highly segregated when it comes to the black population.

figure 1
figure 1

Figure 1: Sarasota County Dissimilarity Rankings, 2010. Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2101 Census; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates.

Areas that have high black concentrations also tend to have high levels of poverty.  The two maps of Sarasota County below demonstrate this trend. The one on the left highlights areas of high black concentration (14.7% or higher), and the one on the right highlights areas of low or moderate income (LMI) concentrations (45.5% or higher). The entire area that has a concentrated black population also has a concentrated LMI population. This high concentration of poverty exacerbates other issues, such as lack of community and educational resources, employment, and social capital.

figure 2
figure 2

Figure 2: Concentration of Black Residents in Sarasota County. Data Source: Sarasota County Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates.

figure 3
figure 3

Figure 3: Concentration of LMI Residents in Sarasota County. Data Source: Sarasota County Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates.

Housing Discrimination in Sarasota County

One of the causes of residential segregation is housing discrimination. Many people in the United States and Sarasota would like to believe that housing discrimination no longer exists. However, recent studies conducted in Sarasota County by the Fair Housing Continuum (FHC) suggest otherwise. In 2011, undercover control and tester individuals were sent to 27 different housing facilities as interested buyers or renters in order to test for discriminatory practices. The study was looking for discrimination based on race and disability; therefore the testers were either black or disabled. 15 tests were performed on the basis of disability, and 11 were performed on the basis of race (Mullin Lonergan & Associates; Sarasota County Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice).

The results of this study are shocking: 60% of the tests performed on the basis of disability, and 91.7% of the tests performed on the basis of race, resulted in discrimination findings. A similar study was done in 2014. Out of 20 complexes tested, 40% were found to give differential treatment based on race or disability. Another 30% were found to give both differential treatment and conditions based on race and disability (Fair Housing Continuum; City of Sarasota).

What does housing discrimination look like today? Instances of discrimination in the 2011 study resulted mainly from differential treatment. A tester would be told that a unit is unavailable, while a control person would be told otherwise. In some race tests, testers were asked for personal information, while control people were asked nothing of a personal nature. In some tests, testers were given higher rent prices than control individuals. If you are interested in a detailed account of the findings, the test results can be found here. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (OFHEO) processes complaints regarding violations of the Fair Housing Act. Between 2002 and 2011, 106 complaints were received from across Sarasota County. Below is a table that shows the alleged basis of those complaints.

figure 4
figure 4

Figure 4: Alleged Bases of Discrimination Complaints Filed through FHEO, 2002-2011. Data Source: HUD FHEO, Region IV.

The data above gives us a sense of the discrimination practices of our decade as opposed to  those of the 1930’s. There is no longer much blatant refusal to sell, but there is still differential treatment which prevents minorities from obtaining housing. Differential treatment and conditions, unlike legal discrimination, is more difficult to prove and, therefore, more difficult to address.

Last year, the FHC presented the findings from the housing discrimination tests to the City Commission. The City Commission was rightly concerned, and passed the reports along to the Human Relations Board. Controversy about the validity of the test results ensued on the basis of flawed methodology. Board Chairwoman Kimberly Walker was skeptical about the findings and wondered whether differential treatment could have been the result of differences in attitude and body language. However, other commissioners and local politicians disagreed that the studies were invalid. Vice Mayor Susan Chapman was quoted in the Herald Tribune as saying that “all you have to do is look at our city and how segregated it is, its obvious.” Currently, the Human Relations Board is examining the methods of the investigation. It has been more than six months since they have received the report (Ian Cummings; Herald Tribune).

Race and Affordability of Housing in Sarasota County

Fair Housing is defined as the ability of persons of similar income levels to have the same housing choices regardless of race, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin. However, black households in Sarasota County are three times more likely to live in poverty than white households (American Community Survey 2006-2010 5-year Estimates). Therefore, when we speak about fair housing choice, we must also speak about affordable housing. Sarasota County is overbuilt; however there is a severe lack of affordable housing. The median income needed to purchase a house in Sarasota County is $48,145. In 2010, the median income for black households was $30,601, 64% of the income needed to purchase a home. This significantly impedes them from homeownership.

figure 5
figure 5

Figure 5: Maximum Affordable Purchase Price by Race/Ethnicity, 2010. Data Source: 2006-2010 American Community Survey; Sarasota Association of Realtors; Sarasota Tax Collector’s Office; Calculations by Mullin & Lonergan Associates, Inc.

What do we do? I think the most important thing is that we start talking about race. Recognizing the problem and being able to discuss it as a community is the first step to solving it. If you are interested in further reading about impediments to fair housing choice in Sarasota, check out this report published in 2012 by Mullin & Lonergan Associates. The organization has developed an action plan (page 133) which addresses each impediment to fair housing choice, and lists possible solutions. Concrete solutions are important, but I believe that in order to truly address racial segregation in our community and in the United States, an ideological shift is necessary. This shift can only result from information and community conversation. If you would like to be part of a conversation about fair housing choice, you can attend the upcoming Fair Housing Seminar, which will be held in Selby Library on Thursday, April 23rd at 10:15am. For more information visit: sarasota.gov/OHCD/index.cfm.

P.S.: It should also be mentioned that housing discrimination and affordability is big issue for the Hispanic community and people with disabilities as well.