High Tech Housing Discrimination

The landmark 1968 Fair Housing law that sought to ban housing discrimination has uncovered a modern threat: the rapid adoption of new technologies for selling and renting homes. Despite decades of progress, there is still much work to be done. As the NFHA noted in its 2019 Fair Housing Trends Report, new ways of advertising homes and apartments using AI and advertising that uses demographic microtargeting to zero in on a certain audience, threaten to continue discrimination of the past by modern means.

The home ownership rate for black Americans stood at 42.3 percent last year, just marginally better than 1970, when it was 41.6! Clearly there is a problem in the system. A report by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) last month found that housing discrimination cases were on the rise across the nation. Algorithms aren’t just impartial, unbiased systems that fairly sort through data. Rather, they tend to manifest the biases of their creators, and of that society at large.

For instance, when looking at tenant applications, an automated system may reject applicants based on unintended connections between data sets; living in a low-income neighborhood may be correlated with an inability to pay rent, for instance. And since modern algorithms compile and sort among myriad data sets, it can be hard for designers and programmers to understand exactly which data point may have caused the system to reject an applicant. Research from a team of Berkeley researchers released last month found that lenders using algorithms to generate decisions on loan pricing have discriminated against borrowers of color, resulting in a collective overcharge of $765 million each year for home and refinance loans. The analysis of roughly 7 million 30-year mortgages also found that both in-person and online lenders rejected a total of 1.3 million creditworthy applicants of color between 2008 and 2015.

Employing new methods like machine learning and artificial intelligence can make processes such as sorting through tenant applications faster, more efficient, and cheaper. The problem is that when you try to build an automated system that solves social problems, you end up creating something that looks at the data of the past and learns the sins of the past.

Targeting some, excluding others

One of the more high-profile examples of technology creating new types of housing discrimination arose from online advertising. Facebook has been cited numerous times by the ACLU and other advocacy groups for its microtargeting feature, which lets advertisers send ads to specific groups via a drop-down menu of categories, including age, race, marital status, and disability status. Real Estate professionals could purchase and publish ads on Facebook that discriminated against different racial groups and other categories protected by the Fair Housing Act. Facebook has since apologized and restricted targeting capabilities for housing ads. Earlier this month, as part of a settlement with the ACLU and other groups who had filed a lawsuit, Facebook said that housing, employment, and credit card ads can no longer be targeted based on age, gender, ZIP code, or multicultural affinity. The social network will also maintain a searchable ad library so civil rights groups and journalists could keep tabs on future housing advertisements.

Other tech giants, including Google and Twitter, have been investigated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for similar issues. The nature of these social network ads can also lead to unintentional targeting. For example, many of these systems allow for lookalike audience targeting, a feature that can for example, help a clothing company target consumers similar to those who already like or follow a brand. Carry that over to the housing world, and it could help a high-end apartment developer target potential renters who are similar to existing tenants—in effect concentrating on the same kinds of renters who already live in the building, and potentially excluding others.

Making Changes

Many advocates believe the answer to this unconscious bias is to change the way these new systems are designed in the first place. One step toward changing how these algorithms work could be by changing who designs them. Advocates within fair housing and technology need to educate programmers and others about how bias manifests itself in these systems, while also designing technology that includes discriminatory flares or bias signals: built-in checks that can evaluate how systems are performing and whether or not they may be creating biased outcomes.

Larger legal remedies may also be afoot. The House Financial Services committee has been looking into the issue and held a hearing in July, and some advocates have raised the idea of revamping the Communications Decency Act, which governs the behavior of tech firms and social networks, to create more specific rules around this type of bias and discrimination.

A big part of the solution should be keeping humans within the system. Housing can be so foundational to achievement, household wealth, and equality that some things shouldn’t be left to machines. The idea that math is better than humans may be true in some instances but not all. There’s a difference between mathematical fairness and social fairness. We should design for justice instead.

 


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Virtual Real Estate

Social Media has become one of the top ways Real Estate salespeople and brokers advertise themselves. You can expand your network, engage business partners and attract new customers all with a few keystrokes on a computer or smart device. Social Media can be the least expensive and most effective of advertising out there today. Forecasts by eMarketer show digital advertising surpassing both print and tv for the first time in history. Now is the perfect time to dive into social media marketing and get ahead of the future of digital Real Estate.

Real Estate as we know it is facing many changes. Virtual companies are on the rise and the only way to capitalize on what’s coming is to jump out in front and embrace the change. You cannot be overrun by these virtual companies if you build a virtual presence yourself. Perhaps your business will never be as big as Zillow or Redfin, but it doesn’t need to be. Your biggest asset as a Real Estate agent is your network. Currently, the biggest Real Estate buying group are Millennials and these Millennials account for 70% of Instagram users. Your buying audience is literally at your virtual fingertips, and when the market becomes digital, your business will be secure.

As history has taught us, fighting change won’t help your business. The best course of action that you can take for yourself and your business is knowing how to navigate the virtual world and accepting that very soon it will become priceless. Social Media can be a complicated and confusing landscape, If you are unsure of how to begin, check out our course titled: Social Media Marketing and you will become a social media whiz in no time. Get started below!


 

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Artificial Intelligence Opportunities in Real Estate

Real Estate, along with every other industry, has advanced from using Artificial Intelligence to improve and support healthier lifestyles for people. In commercial real estate, health-focused principles are more than just trends. They are the beginning of the industry’s promising future. From 2008 to 2017, the number of tech-oriented real estate startups have exploded from a mere 176 to over 1,200 companies. The areas in Real Estate that can really use artificial intelligence to offer healthy solutions are safety, data-driven comfort, and sustainability.

Artificial intelligence in the safety sector of commercial real estate has made a big impact. It provides, for example, better security for those that occupy these spaces. AI and machine learning use anything from voice commands to facial recognition to improve accessibility, security, and infrastructure stability after construction. Eventually, developers will be implementing robots to assist with inspection and repairing damage without utilizing human workers, making it safer for everyone.

Real Estate companies have realized the usefulness of AI data and sensor technology to provide higher comfort and more efficient spaces for consumers. Buildings can become personalized for monitoring, home safety and even senior care. For example, motion sensors can track the tenant’s daily movements so it can then adjust door locks, faucets, electronic devices and monitor optimal temperatures for each tenant. Even though these are simple solutions consumers will enjoy focusing on bigger things while your home adjusts to your comfort.

In Manhattan AI has been implemented in commercial structures already, one such project is the Empire State Building. It currently collects data to identify the buildings energy efficiency so adjustments can be made to keep this historical monument standing and useful for as long as possible. It’s not just HVAC systems and lighting controls that AI can help with. It can also identify roof and insulation issues during construction and water usage patterns which can then be used to identify the best materials to use during construction to offer energy efficient resolutions.

In time, Artificial Intelligence can provide the Real Estate market even more opportunities to make a sale by offering a safe haven with technology both inside and outside of the home.


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Technology May Change How Real Estate Agents View Safety

It’s important to be aware of potential security issues as technology evolves. One new concern is home surveillance. Cameras in doorbells and front entrance are becoming increasingly common with new the accessibility of technology and smart devices. Although it seems like surveillance is expected in luxury homes to watch over high-end objects, real estate agents are discovering them more in general across the home-price spectrum.

According to Twice, smart-home technology is used by 21% of U.S. households with 36% being future customers. Chicago Agent Magazine reported that “9 million homes have WiFi-enabled cameras with microphones, while 11 million have limited-function cameras on front doors on property exteriors.”

There is no federal law regarding camera surveillance on private property but there are some on the state level. Some states have a law that makes a video recording illegal when there is a situation where people have a reasonable exaction of privacy like a bathroom or changing room. But it’s hard to argue the level of expected privacy when you’re in somebody else’s home.

If an agent represents a seller who has surveillance, it’s best to make sure they are honest with the devices and make sure other parties are aware. E.g., have sign-in sheets at open houses that disclose surveillance inside a home. Although it might seem appealing to use cameras as some sort of leverage tool during the negotiation, it’s often better to be transparent for reputation purposes.


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