Despite the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which prohibits discrimination when advertising housing, members of protected classes are still finding the playing field isn’t level. Applicants may see statements such as “no kids,” “Christian housing,” and “English speakers only.”  Discrimination in advertising is a serious barrier that low-income households and people of color encounter when looking for a safe and affordable home.  

How Technology can Further Discrimination 

Technology has opened the door to more sophisticated types of discriminatory advertising. Software that targets or excludes marketing to members of various protected classes has been a central focus of recent fair housing lawsuits. In 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sued Facebook for violating fair housing laws. Facebook was charged for allowing housing advertisers to discriminate against protected groups by restricting who saw housing listings. Advertisers could choose to exclude users from viewing the housing availability based on specific characteristics such as “foreigners” or “moms of grade school kids”. “The charges even describe a mapping tool that allows advertisers to block people from seeing the ad by drawing a red line around those areas, an iteration of the historic and illegal practice of redlining”. Facebook users would have no way of knowing about advertising discrimination. The charges in 2019 were not the first lawsuit Facebook has experienced. In 2016, the National Fair Housing Alliance sued Facebook, claiming advertisers could target ads to exclude specific groups such as African Americans and Hispanics. In March 2019, Facebook announced it would remove many of the advertising filters deemed potentially discriminatory.   

Advertising is an integral component of Facebook’s profits.  While most advertising methods are not illegal, it is often harder to determine how Facebook’s algorithms are determining advertising audiences.  Social media platforms and websites collect extensive data about their customers and their interests. This information is appealing to advertisers as they can target ads to specific audiences who may likely be more interested in their product. While targeted advertising may be acceptable for many commercial items, it becomes more problematic when advertising for rental or sale properties. The massive scale of Facebook or Instagram make it difficult to monitor their internal advertising practices and ensure they are abiding by fair housing laws.   

How Discriminatory Advertising Impacts CASA’s Tenants 

Low-income households and people of color encounter many barriers to safe, secure, affordable housing. Discrimination in advertising only makes the situation worse. Landlords show fewer apartments to people of color compared with equally qualified whites. Other protected groups such as people living with disabilities, housing choice voucher holders and LGBTQ people experience differential treatment. In some cases, applicants are denied critical information across various advertising platforms, limiting their housing opportunities. Potential CASA applicants face similar hurdles when attempting to find housing. While CASA and other affordable housing organizations provide housing to groups who may otherwise be excluded from conventional housing, there are still too few units available.   Ensuring advertisers and large social media platforms such as Facebook and Google uphold fair housing laws is crucial to expanding housing opportunities for all populations.