One in three black people who have experienced homelessness have also faced racial discrimination from a landlord, six times more than the general population of those who had struggled for shelter, a study reveals.
Academics at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found black-led households reporting discrimination also face a risk of homelessness nearly 50% greater than that of a white-led household, even controlling for their socio-economic characteristics. Housing campaigners said the findings “should shame our country” and showed racial inequality was “hard-wired into our housing system”.
The study comes days after the parents of two-year-old Awaab Ishak blamed a social landlord’s racism for his death from black mould in a rented flat in Rochdale that was not treated despite complaints. The housing secretary, Michael Gove, said the familyhad been “victims of prejudice” and warned of “a significant problem with people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds not being treated, as they should be, with respect”.
At the weekend, as the chief executive of Awaab’s landlord was fired, Gove directed all councils across England to make an urgent assessment of damp and mould. He also told social housing providers to “raise the bar dramatically on the quality of social housing and empower tenants so that their voices are truly heard”. Voicing concern about mould was “not treated with sufficient seriousness”, he wrote, and he instructed local authorities to rapidly fix any homes that do not meet the decent homes standard and stop blaming the problem on “lifestyle issues”.
After a senior coroner found persistent black mould caused Awaab’s death, his parents, who are from Sudan, told Rochdale Boroughwide Housing to “stop discriminating, stop being racist [and] stop providing unfair treatment to people coming from abroad who are refugees or asylum seekers”.
The Rochdale case has echoes of the Grenfell Tower fire: families of the victims of the 2017 blaze, 85% of whom were from minority ethnic backgrounds, have urged the public inquiry to deliver a finding of institutional racism in the landlord body.
The Heriot-Watt research into racial bias in housing comes 60 years after flat-hunters reported seeing signs for places to rent that would say “no coloureds” or “no blacks”.
Prof Glen Bramley, a co-author of the report, which used data from the government’s 2016-2018 English Housing Surveys, said: “What is particularly distressing about the findings is the apparent link between homelessness and race discrimination.”
More than one in 10 Asian people who had experienced homelessness had also reported being discriminated against by a landlord, twice the level of the general population.
The report said the large number of black people who have experienced homelessness and racist treatment from private and social landlords “may indicate that experiences of discrimination drive heightened risks of homelessness and/or that black and other minoritised ethnic communities who are homeless are exposed to higher risks of discriminatory behaviour”.
Bramley is now planning more statistical analysis and will gather qualitative evidence “to address these stark inequalities in the most extreme forms of housing need”.
Dr Halima Begum, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, a race equality thinktank, said the findings made for “extremely difficult reading”.
Matt Downie, the chief executive of Crisis, the homelessness charity, said: “Every day we see in our services that black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are experiencing higher rates of homelessness. But this research puts beyond doubt the reality and scale of the problem. It is horrifying that people are being exposed to harassment and abuse in the pursuit of trying to find somewhere safe and secure to live.”