We assume diverse neighbourhoods are more tolerant – but the truth is not that simple

Warsaw, one of the cities where the research took place. Image: Getty.

In many European countries, people overestimate the share of minority populations and immigration volume. This could be a result of people not being well informed or knowledgeable about the social issues around them – but skewed perceptions of ethnic diversity have implications for social relations and openness towards minority ethnic groups.

Although the influence of ethnic diversity on various aspects of social life has been thoroughly investigated in many countries, results are still inconclusive. Some studies found that ethnic diversity is harmful to community cohesion, because it lowers trust in others. Other research says that it promotes better relationships between people of different ethnicities, because it provides more opportunities for everyday contact with people who are different from us.

But whatever the impacts of ethnic diversity, the issue remains that the “actual” ethnic diversity of our neighbourhoods – calculated using census or other data such as immigration statistics – can be very different from our individual perceptions of it.

Perception vs reality

The research I took part in – Living with Difference in Europe – surveyed the attitudes of white British residents in Leeds and Polish residents in Warsaw toward ethnic minorities. Our analysis was based on responses from over 1,000 people in each city.

We asked them to assess the proportion of people “who are of different ethnic background to them” living in their neighbourhoods. The results were analysed along small area data on actual ethnic diversity, using the 2011 census for Leeds, and the 2002 census for Warsaw.

We had two very interesting findings. First, the study confirmed the positive effects of higher exposure to actual ethnic diversity: residents of ethnically mixed neighbourhoods in Leeds, and people who have daily contact with those of minority ethnic backgrounds in both cities, are more tolerant towards them.

Second, in both cities, we found that the more diverse residents perceive their neighbourhoods to be, the more prejudiced they are towards minority ethnic groups. Importantly, those who perceive their neighbourhood as being diverse are equally prejudiced against ethnic minorities – regardless of whether their area was actually diverse or not. By contrast, those living in areas with a high percentage of non-White British people in Leeds – who do not “notice” this diversity around them – are more tolerant.

This could indicate that in some places, diversity has become so commonplace – and the presence of ethnic minorities so normal – that they do not stick out as visibly different.

Skewing the picture

We also wanted to know whether perceptions of diversity could denote more negative attitudes toward ethnic minorities in some neighbourhoods than others: after all, every neighbourhood has its own unique make-up and history. We looked at changes in the diversity of neighbourhoods in Leeds between 2001 and 2011. (Unfortunately, 2011 census data were not available for small areas in Warsaw.)

It turns out that residents who perceive high levels of diversity in their neighbourhoods have more prejudiced attitudes towards ethnic minorities when they live in areas that have actually experienced a recent influx of “white other” (non-British) and “mixed” ethnicity residents.

Interestingly, this was not the case for respondents living among new residents of “Black” and “Asian” ethnicity. We suspect that the the recent changes in the media’s coverage of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe might contribute towards making these newcomers more visible in society.

We also found out that residents who perceive high levels of diversity have more negative attitudes towards ethnic minorities when they are living in neighbourhoods that have had more council housing added recently. High-density council housing is often associated with more disorder, higher levels of violence and fewer opportunities to engage in social life with others. So, we suspect that this may cause residents to feel insecure, and subsequently project these feelings onto local ethnic minority groups – whether or not they are council housing tenants.

Perhaps most importantly, we learned that perceptions of diversity are dynamic across cities – they could be very different between residents living in two similar neighbourhoods in terms of actual proportion of minority ethnic groups. Both the characteristics of the neighbourhoods, and recent changes in the local population, could be responsible for distorting people’s perceptions of ethnic diversity.

Our findings show that we cannot tackle prejudice simply by mixing people of different ethnicities together in the same neighbourhood. Contact between different ethnic groups can help to increasing tolerance. But it seems that peaceful and respectful coexistence can be diminished when our prejudices are reinforced by negative media or social stereotypes.The Conversation

Aneta Piekut is a lecturer in quantitative social sciences at the University of Sheffield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.

Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.