The Current State of Fair Housing in Greensboro

Fair housing is the LAW—not an option—but the reality is that people of color, especially those in poverty, have few choices about where to live. How do we get from the current reality to fair housing?

North Carolina is the tenth most populace state. Over the course of the last decade, the population growth has been twice that of the nation. The twelve county region of the Piedmont Triad has grown to a population that now exceeds 1.6 million residents. At the heart of the Triad is one of the most sprawling metropolitan areas in the country. The Greensboro-Winston-Salem–High Point MSA covers an area of nearly 1,000 square miles.

In the last decade we have seen Winston-Salem and Greensboro become majority-minority in part due to the rapid growth of Asian and Hispanic populations. As a whole, 6.8% of residents living within the twelve county region are either immigrants or refugees from foreign countries. Foreign born people have migrated to all parts of the region, but their presence has most been found in the more urban counties. The latest estimates for Greensboro show 28,514 or 10.3% of the population as foreign-born. The overall ethnic narrative of the triad is one of a region that once experienced race as “binary” of black and white populations. Recently however it has become less white and less binary, as Asians, Hispanics, biracial and multiracial groups have become a more visible part of the everyday social landscape.

Sprawling areas such the Triad have been shown to increase residential segregation between minorities and white.  A recent study entitled Geospatial Analysis of Racial Segregation in North Carolina’s Major Metropolitan Areas, found consistent and clear differences in residential patterns by race with suburban areas becoming more white and urban areas more diverse. Both a casual observation of our neighborhoods in Greensboro as well as more careful geospatial analysis of Census data reveal that we live in a racially segregated city. Looking at this map we see the population of some areas are clearly more dominated by one racial or ethnic group.

What do you notice about the geographic distribution of people of color? What you see in fact is that in some tracts on the east and southeast side of town, 98% to 100% of residents are non-white. While segregation has been outlawed since 1968, we continue to see areas of Greensboro that are highly segregated. In particular we have two areas of Greensboro that have been identified as fitting the federal definition for racially concentrated areas of poverty. These census tracts have  extreme levels of poverty and are majority-minority.

So how did we arrive in a situation with so much segregation in Greensboro?

Segregation results from a complex set of historical circumstances, economic and social policies, and local cultural and social practices. Housing discrimination in the form of a lack of access to credit, steering, denial of access to properties, and lack of adequate transportation choices are structural impediment that lead to fewer educational opportunities for children, greater exposure to damaging environmental conditions resulting in chronic health problems, the formation of isolated ethnic enclaves, and has limited opportunities for cultural diversity in many neighborhoods throughout Greensboro.

Over the last seven years I have been involved in a number of studies of housing discrimination and segregation in Greensboro. All of the studies have focused on four key factors related to segregation:

  1. Attitudes towards racial integration
  2. Perceptions of discrimination by home seekers
  3. Disparate treatment of minorities home seekers and
  4. Disparate impact of lending practices by race and ethnicity

I would like to provide you a very brief summary of some of the key findings of these studies as they relate to reality for people of color, especially those in poverty, that Greensboro is not always a provider of fair and affordable housing for all…

First we will begin with a very recent survey of residents and their attitudes toward living in diverse neighborhoods. We found that there still a significant number of people who would prefer not to live with people who are not like themselves. Those who prefer to live in an ethnic enclave are more likely to have lived in their current neighborhood for a longer time, they are more likely to be older, they are more likely to live outside of the city limits, and they are more likely to be white. We also found that affluence was correlated with the desire to live in ethnically isolated neighborhoods…. Let me say that another way, rich, older, white people, who have not moved in a long while and are living outside of the city limits were more resistant to the idea of living in ethnically diverse settings.

Respondents were asked to write in reasons they preferred to live in racial enclaves. Many reasons were provided: Safety, commonality, cultural familiarity …A few notable responses included:

  • After experiencing numerous safety concerns & crimes living in a mixed community, I now prefer to return to a predominantly same race (Black) community where I would feel safer because I never experienced such crime/ harassment there.
  • I’m not racist, but every black family I’ve lived near had been a walking stereotype. Every single one.
  • Home values often linked to racial makeup of surrounding area

So next, let’s look at a few findings from a study done on people’s perceptions of discrimination in housing… In this 2008 study we asked immigrants in Greensboro if they had ever had difficulty or been treated unfairly by their landlords. Depending on the question, we found that a quarter to a third of respondents had been treated unfairly.

The 2013 survey also found that perception of housing discrimination was highly correlated with age, disability, education, income, immigrant status and race/ethnicity. As part of a planning study for the Human Relations Department we reviewed case files of fair housing complaints. We found that the majority of complaints filed were on the basis of race/ethnicity and national origin.

Rather than waiting for complaints to be filed with the City, we have also conducted a series of ‘paired testing studies’ where we send out white, black, Asian, and Latino apartment seekers and gauge the disparate treatment they receive. In 2012 we conducted over 1100 phone call tests with accented callers – white, black, Asian, and Latino, male and female tester. We found that depending on your accent, you may have less access to the property, you might be told a different rent amount, and you may not be encouraged to visit the property.

Over the course of several of the paired testing studies, we have seen some consistent patterns – white female testers are steered away from SE Greensboro and directed to properties on the other side of town. African American and Asian testers are least likely to get call backs or have access to the property. Hispanic testers may be asked probing questions about legal status and family composition, but also are ‘courted’ by some property managers.

Finally, a series of studies we’ve conducted have focused on access to credit. Without equal access to credit, home seekers might be shut out of becoming an owner occupant and establishing a long-term savings in the form of home equity and long-term gains in home values.

The studies of credit have relied on Housing Mortgage origination data that is compiled by the federal government. A simple and straight forward measure of the disparate impact of lending practices is to look at the loan approval rates by race/ethnicity. We see a 28 percentage point range in approvals. A little more robust and nuanced statistical procedure allows us to hold all individual factors, community characteristics and loan conditions constant and see the relative impact of race/ethnicity when all else is equal. We see that minority loan seekers are about half as likely to get a loan as white applicants when all other factors are equal.

In summary, our recent housing studies have demonstrated that people of color do not have the same housing opportunities as whites as a result of discriminatory practices. We found that minorities often perceived there to be inequitable treatment by landlords. We found that some people prefer to live in areas where people are the same race as them and they do not wish to live in diverse areas. We have also found that the ‘color-blind’ policies of the lending market has resulted in a lack of access to credit for many people of color.

What should we do about it?

We need to continue proactively and affirmatively promoting fair housing at a regional level as housing choices are not limited by municipal and county boundaries. Fair housing is the LAW, but without someone to enforce fair housing laws, we will see no change in the current situation.

We need to aggressively seek out violations and prosecute intentional and repeat violators to the fullest extent of the law.

We need for everyone involved in housing in the private sector as well as government to be educated on fair housing law.

We need more low-cost housing that is not located in communities that have been identified as racial concentrations of poverty. The evidence from a history of building assisted housing in already poor neighborhoods shows that it does not work. We need mixed income development to be encouraged by policy makers and made real by developers.

We need to be careful about gentrification. The approach to ‘fixing’ segregation has often been to declare low-income black neighborhoods as blight and then redevelop them. In the process the residents are priced out of their neighborhoods.

Areas of opportunity have been identified. These areas already have some level of diversity, modest housing costs, better educational opportunities, good jobs, and services nearby. Housing voucher programs have been created to afford low-income residents the option of finding housing in these better neighborhoods. Yet, lack of transportation choices as well as landlord resistance to vouchers has led to under-utilization in these areas.

How do we get from the current reality to fair housing?


Residential Survey of Fair Housing Issues and Awareness


Piedmont Together Housing Study

Piedmont NC Residents:

Several organizations in the Piedmont Triad have embarked on a cooperative effort designed to promote livable communities resulting in a sustainable future. PIEDMONT TOGETHER (formerly referred to as the Piedmont Triad Sustainable Communities Planning Project) is a 3-year process and we want you to get involved! A main focus of this project is to help create and sustain jobs and investment throughout the region, as well as promoting housing affordability and a sustainable environment. The 12-county regional plan will promote sustainable communities, highlighting the great things already happening in our region and helping communities develop or implement plans to grow or revitalize.

To date 48 organizations, agencies, local governments and businesses have pledged support and are active participants in the planning process. The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation and the Piedmont Triad Regional Council are the lead agencies. The project is made possible thought a grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As part of this effort, Sills Consulting LLC is conducting a survey for the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC) to evaluate Fair Housing conditions in the area. We are interested in your opinions and thoughts about your neighborhood and local Fair Housing issues.

The survey is being conducted anonymously. Your name will not be associated in anyway with the answers you provide. Please be honest and complete in your answers. Responses will be summarized and individual responses will not be reported in any way. The survey will take about 10-15 minutes and is anonymous and completely voluntary.


$250 Apple Shop Gift Card for Participation

When you complete the survey, you will be offered the opportunity to be included in a drawing for a new iPod Touch or a $250 Apple Store Gift Card.   If you would like to be included in the drawing, you will be redirected at the end of the survey to another website where you will complete a short form with your contact information. This contact information will not be associated in any way with your answers on the survey.


Thank you for helping us!


Sills Consulting to Partner with City of Greensboro

For the past five years, Dr. Stephen J. Sills and Rev. Dr. Mark R. Sills have been working closely with the Greensboro Housing Coalition and the City of Greensboroto “test” the degree to which fair housing laws are understood and followed, especially in regard to refugees/immigrants and other minority populations. Greensborois one of the only cities in NC that has had what is known as a “paired testing” program. This is the only type of program that can provide solid evidence of discrimination. In our previous studies, we have shown that in spite of years of good effort, some landlords continue to violate the housing rights of minority people in our city. Our findings have been presented in HUD Analysis of Impediments reports, at the Greensboro Housing Summit, at regional and national conferences, and scholarly publications (see “Unfair Housing Practices in Black and Brown” in Being Brown in Dixie: Race, Ethnicity, and Latino Immigration in the New South). We are currently working with the HUD/EPA funded Piedmont Triad Sustainable Communities Planning Project on development of a regional Analysis of Impediments.

This project builds upon our experience of investigating discriminatory practices using a statistically representative sample of affordable rental properties inGreensboro for accented-caller telephone testing (Asian, White, Black, and Hispanic). Previous research activities have resulted in useful findings about housing discrimination inGreensboro, but have been limited by a lack of generalizability. Statistically accurate data reflecting the incidence of fair housing issues will be used by the Fair Housing Division of the Human Relations Department of the City ofGreensboro for development of fair housing educational materials. Face-to-face paired-testing will be conducted with up to fifty properties that showed discrepancies or signs of discrimination in telephone testing. Results will be submitted to the Fair Housing office for possible enforcement action.