The Data-Driven Home Search

As an organic secessionism takes place in America, with whites moving to increasingly white areas, such areas will prosper disproportionately. Then will come the backlash from non-white liberals about the ‘disparate impact’ such (natural and voluntary) racial/ethnic segregation entails. The NYT wrings its hands over new tools that exacerbate this coming secession (“The Data-Driven Home Search“). Hat tip: S. Sailer.

The article profiles various websites that are empowering individuals with more information about a town or neighborhood. Such sites are:

… part of a controversial industry trend that caters to home buyers who have both the desire and the ability to cherry-pick their surroundings. Other real estate websites are supplying home buyers with loads of hyper-specific community data, including racial makeup, percent of married households and education level. Because these sites, if not actually brokerages, are linked to home sales, they have attracted the attention of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is charged with enforcing fair housing laws.

Aye, carumba! We mustn’t run afoul of HUD regulations and existing law which makes it illegal for a realtor to tell you the racial makeup of an area.

And while the notion of a “perfect” community may be a fantasy, research shows that people who move are increasingly drawn to places where they feel as if they belong, says Matt Motyl, a social psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“One factor that plays into that is, ‘Do the people here look and talk like me?’ ” Mr. Motyl said…

Legal questions aside, the growing accessibility of so much demographic data has the potential to fuel the segregation that is already increasing along a number of lines — economically, racially, ideologically. Mr. Bishop, the author of “The Big Sort,” argues that as other forms of community have gone away or weakened, Americans are increasingly reordering themselves around shared values and areas of interest. “Given a choice,” he said, “people choose to segregate themselves into these places where they can surround themselves with people like themselves.

This self-segregating boosts people’s sense of well-being by satisfying the need to belong, says Mr. Motyl, who studies ideological migration.

Imagine that!

Hopefully, as individuals are increasingly able to learn dastardly facts like the demographics of a town, we can progressively ban such tools, for the greater good. After all, there are “thorny issues” involved here.

This trend raises some thorny questions. The growing accessibility of highly detailed demographic data plays into the natural tendency of home buyers to look for “people like us,” which is as old as the subdivided hills. Indeed, some suburban communities were created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries specifically with this in mind, some with discriminatory policies written into leases and deeds.

But Bill Bishop, a Texas journalist and the author of “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart” (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), argues that this tribalism is a major driver of the country’s deepening political polarization. Over the last 30 years, he says, greater mobility, laws enforcing racial equity and prosperity have given Americans even more choice about where to live. Will Internet-enhanced abilities to scout out communities intensify that sorting effect?

And what about the impact on segregation? The National Association of Realtors’ code of ethics prohibits Realtors and associates involved in a sale from volunteering information regarding the racial, religious or ethnic composition of any neighborhood, lest they run afoul of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits the steering of clients to or away from neighborhoods out of bias.  But many nonbrokerage real estate websites that act as referral generators for agents readily offer such information.

But, what about U.S. Census data, which contains much of the same information?

The sites are simply making it easier for home buyers to access data that is already available, much of it through the Census Bureau, says Peter Goldey, the chief information officer and chief knowledge officer for Onboard Informatics, a provider of local content data and lifestyle search products for real estate sites. “We think the consumer has a right to information as long as the information is factual,” he said.

Uh oh. Can we ban publication of U.S. Census data? Better get Pelosi on this… and HUD.

HUD may yet weigh in on the question. The department declined to make someone available for an interview, but in a prepared statement, Gustavo F. Velasquez, the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity, said: “We are aware of the issue and are reviewing it. It would be premature for us to comment while the review is underway.”

This entry was posted in Secession. Bookmark the permalink.