Housing is already a discriminatory industry, through the historical legacy of redlining and racial covenants, mortgage loan discrimination, lower assessments for black home owners, realtors steering clients away from certain areas, and freeways destroying minority neighborhoods. However, the housing shortage makes the problem worse:
In a healthy, nondiscriminatory housing market, buyers will compete for homes by raising their bids. American housing markets are neither healthy nor nondiscriminatory, and with supply at historic lows, sellers have increasing power to legally and illegally discriminate among buyers.
A property could get multiple offers well over asking price, which means that (while it’s obviously most relevant) the amount of money is not the only metric that sellers use to choose an offer. In addition to offering high prices, buyers have turned to a bevy of creative methods to distinguish themselves from their competitors — all-cash offers, waiving inspections and other important contingencies, and writing personal cover letters.
It’s this last strategy that raises flags for anyone familiar with fair housing law. Personal cover letters ask the buyer to sell themselves, their family, as a product for the seller to consider.
Hobart, a lawyer who lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh, told Vox this is what happened when he and his wife were looking for a home last summer: “I emphasized that we would be good neighbors and be committed to the community … trying to have some way of standing out by saying that we’re nice, normal people.”
This reminds me of the personal letters prospective adoptive parents write to birth mothers in order to convince them to pick their family for adoption. In that case, the decision is over a human being; housing ought to be abundant enough to be treated like a commodity. Unfortunately, it’s not.