Segmented Information, Segregated Outcomes: Housing Affordability and Neighborhood Representation on a Voucher-Focused Online Housing Platform and Three Mainstream Alternatives

Published in Housing Policy Debate, 2022

Online platforms have become an integral component of the housing search process in the United States and other developed contexts, but recent studies have demonstrated that these platforms offer uneven representation of different neighborhoods. In this study, we use listings covering the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas to assess how GoSection8, a platform uniquely focused on affordable housing and voucher-assisted households, compares with the “mainstream” alternatives of Craigslist,, and Zillow. Through descriptive and regression analyses of the housing and neighborhoods represented on these websites and a new way of measuring the distribution of rental housing opportunities, we advance a multisource perspective on the role of online information exchanges in housing search processes. Specifically, we find that GoSection8 and mainstream alternatives capture spatially segmented information about housing markets, with GoSection8 ads representing units that are more affordable but also more constrained to higher-poverty neighborhoods where assisted households are already concentrated. The findings suggest that disadvantaged households are potentially funneled toward high-poverty, isolated neighborhoods by the operation of stratified information systems available for online housing searches.

Recommended citation: Hess, C., Walter, R., Kennedy, I., Acolin, A., Ramiller, A., Crowder, K. (2022). Segmented Information, Segregated Outcomes: Housing Affordability and Neighborhood Representation on a Voucher-Focused Online Housing Platform and Three Mainstream Alternatives

Informing Housing Policy through Web Automation: Lessons for Designing Programming Tools for Domain Experts

Published in CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Extended Abstracts, 2022

Housing costs have risen dramatically in the past decade, surpassing their pre-Recession levels, but the data that housing researchers and policymakers rely on to understand these dynamics remain subject to important limitations in their spatiotemporal granularity or methodological transparency. While these aspects of existing public and private data sources present barriers to understanding the geography of cost and availability in markets across the United States, web data about housing opportunities provide an important alternative—albeit one that demands technical skills that would-be data users may lack. This case study documents the experiences of a collaboration between social and computer scientists focused on using a novel programming-by-demonstration tool for web automation, Helena, to inform rental housing policy and inequalities in the United States. While this project was initially focused on collecting housing ads from a single site within the Seattle area, the capacity to scale our project to new sources and locations afforded by Helena’s human-centered design allowed a team of social scientists to progress to scraping data across the country and multiple platforms. Using this project as a case study, we discuss a.) important programming and research challenges that were encountered and b.) how Helena’s design helped us overcome these barriers to using scraped web data in basic research and policy analysis.

Recommended citation: Hess, C., Chasins, S. (2022). Informing Housing Policy through Web Automation: Lessons for Designing Programming Tools for Domain Experts

Searching for housing in the digital age: Neighborhood representation on internet rental housing platforms across space, platform, and metropolitan segregation

Published in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 2021

Understanding residential mobility, housing affordability, and the geography of neighborhood advantage and disadvantage relies on robust information about housing search processes and housing markets. Existing data about housing markets, especially rental markets, suffer from accuracy issues and a lack of temporal and geographic flexibility. Data collected from online rental platforms that are commonly used can help address these issues and hold considerable promise for better understanding the full distribution of available rental homes. However, realizing this promise requires a careful assessment of potential sources of bias as online rental listing platforms may perpetuate inequalities similar to those found in physical spaces. This paper approaches the production of rental advertisements as a social process driven by both contextual and property level factors. We compare data from two online platforms for the 100 most populated metropolitan areas in the United States to explore inequality in digital rental listing spaces and understand what characteristics are associated with over and underrepresentation of advertisements in certain areas. We find similar associations for socioeconomic measures between platforms and across urban and suburban parts of these metropolitan areas. In contrast, the importance of racial and ethnic composition, as well as broader patterns of segregation, for online representation differs substantially across space and platform. This analysis informs our understanding of how online platforms affect housing search dynamics through their biases and segmentation, and highlights the potential and limits in using the data available on these platforms to produce small area rental estimates.

Recommended citation: Hess, C., Acolin, A., Walter, R., Kennedy, I., Chasins, S., Crowder, K. (2021). Searching for housing in the digital age: Neighborhood representation on internet rental housing platforms across space, platform, and metropolitan segregation

Toward a cross-platform framework: Assessing the comprehensiveness of online rental housing markets

Published in Cityscape, 2021

Research on rental housing markets in the United States has traditionally relied on national or local housing surveys. Those sources lack temporal and spatial specificity, limiting their use for tracking short-term changes in local markets. As rental housing ads have transitioned to digital spaces, a growing body of literature has utilized web scraping to analyze listing practices and variations in rental market dynamics. Those studies have primarily relied on one platform, Craigslist, as a source of data. Despite Craigslist’s popularity, the authors contend that rental listings from various websites, rather than from individual ones, provide a more comprehensive picture. Using a mixed-methods approach to study listings across various platforms in five metropolitan areas, this article demonstrates considerable variation in both the types of rental units advertised and the features provided across those platforms. The article begins with an account of the birth and consolidation of online rental platforms and emergent characteristics of several selected websites, including the criteria for posting, search parameters, search results priority, and first-page search results. Visualizations are used to compare features such as the 40th percentile of rent, rent distribution, and bedroom size based on scraped data from six online platforms (Padmapper,, Trulia, Zillow, Craigslist, and GoSection8), 2020 Fair Market Rents, and 2019 American Community Survey data. The analyses indicate that online listing platforms target different audiences and offer distinct information on units within those market segments, resulting in markedly different estimates of local rental costs and unit size distribution depending on the platform.

Recommended citation: Costa, A., Sass, V., Kennedy, I., Roy, R., Walter, R., Acolin, A.; Crowder, K., Hess, C., Ramiller, A., Chasins, S. (2021). Toward a cross-platform framework: Assessing the comprehensiveness of online rental housing markets. Cityscape.

When push comes to shove: Local violence and residential mobility among families

Published in Journal of Marriage and Family, 2021

This study examined whether exposure to, and perceptions of, local violence were associated with families’ probabilities of moving and whether that relationship varied by the level of perceived collective efficacy in the neighborhood. Local violence can shape individuals’ outcomes in long-lasting ways. Parents who perceive their neighborhoods to be violent may be especially concerned about moving their children away from local violence and this desire may be heightened when families perceive that there are few social resources in their neighborhoods. However, limited research exists concerning the associations between perceptions of local violence, collective efficacy, and mobility decisions of families with children. The analyses used Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study Data (n = 3636) and mixed-effects models to examine the relationship between primary caregivers’ reported perceptions of neighborhood violence and their probabilities of moving with their families. The moderating role of community collective efficacy was assessed, as was the relationship between mobility and changes in families’ perceptions of local violence. Perceptions of violence were significantly associated with increases in the probabilities that families move and decreases in perceptions of local violence after moving. These results provide evidence for the importance of individuals’ perceptions for shaping mobility outcomes and the value of mobility for shielding families from local violence.

Recommended citation: Leibbrand, C., Gabriel, R., Hess, C., & Crowder, K. (2021). When push comes to shove: Local violence and residential mobility among families. Journal of Marriage and Family.

Racialized Discourse in Seattle Rental Ad Texts

Published in Social Forces, 2020

Racial discrimination has been a central driver of residential segregation for many decades, in the Seattle area as well as in the United States as a whole. In addition to redlining and restrictive housing covenants, housing advertisements included explicit racial language until 1968. Since then, housing patterns have remained racialized, despite overt forms of racial language and discrimination becoming less prevalent. In this paper, we use Structural Topic Models (STM) and qualitative analysis to investigate how contemporary rental listings from the Seattle-Tacoma Craigslist page differ in their description based on neighborhood racial composition. Results show that listings from White neighborhoods emphasize trust and connections to neighborhood history and culture, while listings from non-White neighborhoods offer more incentives and focus on transportation and development features, sundering these units from their surroundings. Without explicitly mentioning race, these listings display racialized neighborhood discourse that might impact neighborhood decision-making in ways that contribute to the perpetuation of housing segregation.

Recommended citation: Kennedy, I., Hess, C., Paullada, A., & Chasins, S. (2020). Racialized Discourse in Seattle Rental Ad Texts. Social Forces.

Racial disparity in exposure to housing cost burden in the United States: 1980–2017

Published in Housing Studies, 2020

This article uses the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to analyse Black–White differences in housing cost burden exposure among renter households in the USA from 1980 to 2017, expanding understanding of this phenomenon in two respects. Specifically, we document how much this racial disparity changed among renters over almost four decades and identify how much factors associated with income or housing costs explain Black–White inequality in exposure to housing cost burden. For White households, the net contribution of household, neighbourhood and metropolitan covariates accounts for much of the change in the probability of housing cost burden over time. For Black households, however, the probability of experiencing housing cost burden continued to rise throughout the period of this study, even after controlling for household, neighbourhood and metropolitan covariates. This suggests that unobserved variables like racial discrimination, social networks or employment quality might explain the increasing disparity in cost burden among for Black and White households in the USA.

Recommended citation: Hess, C., Colburn, G., Crowder, K., & Allen, R. (2020). Racial disparity in exposure to housing cost burden in the United States: 1980–2017. Housing Studies, 1-21.

Residential Segregation by Race and Ethnicity and the Changing Geography of Neighborhood Poverty

Published in Spatial Demography, 2020

Racial and ethnic segregation in U.S. metropolitan areas contributes to the existence of neighborhood poverty, with segregation typically conceptualized as occurring between central city and suburban neighborhoods due to the racially exclusive nature of suburbanization through much of the twentieth century. However, increasing suburbanization across race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status since around 1970 has complicated the spatial structure of residential inequalities among metropolitan areas. In this study, I assess how patterns of racial and ethnic inequality in exposure to neighborhood poverty changed across urban and suburban locations since 1980, and I investigate how different dimensions of segregation by race and ethnicity correspond to worsened racial and ethnic inequality in exposure to disadvantaged neighborhoods in urban as well as suburban areas. To study differences between suburbs, I contribute a novel approach for measuring suburban neighborhoods based on their density, housing stock age and overall degree of development. Results demonstrate how the conventional city-suburb dichotomy masks substantial differences between suburbs in (a) Black, Latino and White exposure to neighborhood disadvantage and (b) the degree to which patterns of segregation by race and ethnicity exacerbate Black–White and Latino–White inequalities in exposure to suburban neighborhood disadvantage. Black–White segregation exacerbates Black exposure to neighborhood poverty across space, especially in cities and older suburbs, while Latino–White segregation worsens Latino exposure to poor neighborhoods in cities as well as farther-flung rural and exurban areas.

Recommended citation: Hess, C. (2020). Residential Segregation by Race and Ethnicity and the Changing Geography of Neighborhood Poverty. Spatial Demography, 1-50.

Light-rail Investment in Seattle: Gentrification Pressures and Trends in Neighborhood Ethnoracial Composition

Published in Urban Affairs Review, 2020

Research often finds a positive relationship between public transportation investment and gentrification in nearby neighborhoods. This dynamic is particularly important in urban contexts that plan for transit-oriented development and creating future “walkability.” In this study, I demonstrate a link between transit investment and changing neighborhood racial and ethnic composition, using a case study of the recent light-rail project in Seattle, Washington. Descriptive analyses and difference-in-difference models suggest that affected neighborhoods in Seattle experienced rising shares of non-Hispanic Whites following the start of light-rail construction, while neighborhoods at the suburban periphery of the line saw substantial growth in racial and ethnic diversity. These findings highlight the role of transit infrastructure in restructuring demographic trajectories of nearby neighborhoods and contribute evidence about shifting patterns of residential segregation in the area around the transit line.

Recommended citation: Hess, C. L. (2020). Light-rail investment in Seattle: Gentrification pressures and trends in neighborhood ethnoracial composition. Urban Affairs Review, 56(1), 154-187.

Comparing Small Area Fair Market Rents With Other Rental Measures Across Diverse Housing Markets

Published in Cityscape, 2019

Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) are calculated at the 40th percentile of the U.S. postal ZIP Code instead of the metropolitan area in an effort to capture localized rents to expand choice for voucher holders to access housing in higher-opportunity neighborhoods. Existing studies on the potential and actual outcomes of SAFMRs demonstrate that findings vary for different types of housing markets. Furthermore, the decisions public housing authorities (PHAs) make in the implementation process affect PHAs’ program budget and the rent burden and locational outcomes for voucher households. This study aims to address how these implementation factors are affected by local rental market conditions for three PHAs—Housing Authority of the City of Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio Housing Authority, and Seattle Housing Authority—in diverse housing markets. By comparing different sources of market rent estimates with SAFMRs in each location, we contribute new information about how this rule is likely to produce different residential outcomes in terms of increased access to low-poverty neighborhoods and adjustments to payment standards in low-rent neighborhoods. The findings reveal differences across rent measures in terms of estimated levels and relative differences across ZIP Codes. These findings suggest that housing authorities may face challenges in meeting the objectives of the SAFMR final rule without some form of local adjustments.

Recommended citation: Hess, C., Walter, R. J., Acolin, A., & Chasins, S. (2019). Comparing Small Area Fair Market Rents With Other Rental Measures Across Diverse Housing Markets. Cityscape, 21(3), 159-186.

Is geography destiny? Disrupting the relationship between segregation and neighbohrood outcomes

Published in Social Science Research, 2019

Considerable research has shown that, in the cross-section, segregation is associated with detrimental neighborhood outcomes for blacks and improved neighborhood outcomes for whites. However, it is unclear whether early-life experiences of segregation shape later-life neighborhood outcomes, whether this association persists for those who migrate out of the metropolitan areas in which they grew up, and how these relationships differ for blacks and whites. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics from 1979 to 2013, we find that the level of segregation experienced during adolescence is associated with significantly worse neighborhood outcomes in adulthood for blacks. However, migrating out of the metropolitan area an individual grew up in substantially moderates these relationships. In contrast, adolescent segregation is associated with improved, or not significantly different, neighborhood outcomes in adulthood for whites. These findings have important implications for theorizing about the mechanisms linking segregation and neighborhood outcomes and for considering potential means of assuaging racial disparities in harmful neighborhood exposures.

Recommended citation: Leibbrand, C., Gabriel, R., Hess, C., & Crowder, K. (2020). Is geography destiny? Disrupting the relationship between segregation and neighbohrood outcomes. Social Science Research, 86, 102396.

Does Hypersegregation Matter for Black-White Socioeconomic Disparities?

Published in Demography, 2019

Massey and Denton’s concept of hypersegregation describes how multiple and distinct forms of black-white segregation lead to high levels of black-white stratification. However, numerous studies assessing the association between segregation and racial stratification applied only one or two dimensions of segregation, neglecting how multiple forms of segregation combine to potentially exacerbate socioeconomic disparities between blacks and whites. We address this by using data from the U.S. Census from 1980 to 2010 and data from the American Community Survey from 2012 to 2016 to assess trajectories for black-white disparities in educational attainment, employment, and neighborhood poverty between metropolitan areas with hypersegregation and black-white segregation, as measured by the dissimilarity index. Using a time-varying measure of segregation types, our results indicate that in some cases, hypersegregated metropolitan areas have been associated with larger black-white socioeconomic disparities beyond those found in metropolitan areas that are highly segregated in terms of dissimilarity but are not hypersegregated. However, the contrasts in black-white socioeconomic inequality between hypersegregated metropolitan areas and those with high segregation largely diminish by the 2012 to 2016 observation.

Recommended citation: Hess, C., Gabriel, R., Leibbrand, C., & Crowder, K. (2019). Does Hypersegregation Matter for Black-White Socioeconomic Disparities?. Demography, 56(6), 2169-2191.