Redfin, Realtor-dot-com To Stop Including Crime Stats on Listings Due to Possible ‘Racial Bias’ Concerns
“…given the long history of redlining and racist housing covenants in the United States, there’s too great a risk of this [crime data] inaccuracy reinforcing racial bias,” Redfin’s chief growth officer Christian Taubman wrote.
When searching for a home to rent or buy, the two top priorities for most people beyond the affordability of the house is whether or not it is in a safe neighborhood and whether or not it is close to good schools.
With violent crime on the rise in big cities across America over the last 18 months or so, one would think that real estate listing websites would be ramping up their efforts to give prospective renters/homebuyers all the available information they needed on crime stats for the area(s) they’re looking to move to so they can be better informed before they make a decision to put in an application or make an offer.
But that’s not the case for two of the top real estate search engines in the country.
Earlier this week in a post with the headline “An Invitation to the Industry: Address Fair Housing Together,” Realtor.com CEO David Doctorow wrote about “the challenges” communities of color allegedly face not just in the homebuying process but in the home selling process as well. And after collaborating with proponents of “fair housing,” Doctorow said one thing Realtor.com had done was to remove crime data from their search engines:
For example, earlier this month, we removed the crime map layer from all search results on Realtor.com to rethink the safety information we share on Realtor.com and how we can best integrate it as part of a consumer’s home search experience.
One area where Doctorow said real estate companies could “shine a light on inequity and promote fairness” was in “rethinking” how they characterized neighborhoods:
Rethinking how we characterize neighborhoods. Historically, our industry has rated neighborhoods using metrics that unfairly penalize communities of color. We can all do a better job explaining the facts in a way that does not unfairly penalize neighborhoods, towns and cities.
In the weeks and months ahead, we plan to examine closely what neighborhood safety means for buyers and renters who use our site so we can reimagine how we integrate safety data on Realtor.com. Our goal is to ensure we are providing consumers with the most valuable, fair and accurate neighborhood data so they can make informed decisions about where they want to rent or purchase their next home.
On the same day – and likely not by coincidence – Redfin chief growth officer Christian Taubman announced that though the company had previously considered including crime mapping on their website, that it would not be doing so going forward because “there’s too great a risk of this [crime data] inaccuracy reinforcing racial bias”:
We recently decided not to add neighborhood crime data to Redfin.com. We were considering this because we’re very much focused on answering all the questions people have when they’re considering a home purchase, and we know that one of these questions is whether they’ll feel safe in a given home or neighborhood. But the data available don’t allow us to speak accurately to that question, and given the long history of redlining and racist housing covenants in the United States there’s too great a risk of this inaccuracy reinforcing racial bias. We believe that Redfin–and all real estate sites–should not show neighborhood crime data.
People Are Interested in Safety, Not Crime
One big thing we learned through our research is that there’s real variety in how people define and evaluate safety, and that it doesn’t line up very well with purely crime-based data. When we survey people about what they want to know about a neighborhood, they define safety in a number of different ways: people variously say they care whether there’s trash on the street, care solely about violent crime, or care whether they are going to frequently see people who are homeless.
Taubman spent the rest of the post trying to impress upon readers how sufficiently woke Redfin was by pointing to alleged “racial bias” in crime surveys and how there are supposedly “reasons to doubt the usefulness” and accuracy “of the [reported crime] data.”
When I first read the news at the DC Examiner about Realtor.com’s and Redfin’s decisions, my first thought (after muttering “idiots!” to myself) was that both were telling on themselves by making a correlation between crime data, communities of color, and “racial bias.”
Most people looking for homes understand that a bad neighborhood and/or a high-crime area can include either a mixture of races or predominantly one race over the other but that in the latter instance it could just as easily be a predominantly white community rather than a black or Hispanic one.
For instance, living in the south, there are a lot of trailer park communities. I lived in some as a child. They were predominantly white. There were major crime issues and other issues related to safety, many of which still exist today in some of them.
And living in Charlotte as long as I have, I can point you to public housing communities that are predominantly white that also have crime and safety issues plaguing their neighborhood, places that most people would not want to move into if they knew beforehand.
My references are anecdotal to be sure, but I’m not far off the mark – and the situation is the same all across the country. There are longtime residents who can point to white neighborhoods with crime and safety issues just as they can to black neighborhoods with crime issues. Same with any high-crime Hispanic neighborhoods as well.
For the Average Joe and Jane searching for a home, any correlation between crime and race is incidental, not purposeful. On the other hand, Redfin and Realtor.com deliberately infer that crime data has a direct correlation to communities of color.
So who are the real racists here? The people searching for a home, or the real estate honchos who want to pretend they’re “better serving” consumers and being more “equitable” to black/brown/Asian communities by excluding important data that all people look to – white, black, Hispanic, etc – when trying to rent/buy a home?
My prediction on this is that it’s going to backfire big time on Redfin and Realtor.com, much the same as “Defund the Police” backfired on House Democrats. Because as it turns out, no matter what a person’s race is, they want police around to protect them and they want to know the crime data for cities and neighborhoods because their first priority is to keep their family safe.
— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —DONATE
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