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Housing alliance questions level of neighborhood data

The National Fair Housing Alliance is reportedly investigating whether the use of neighborhood-level racial, ethnic, linguistic, and similar demographic information on real estate brokerage and property search websites violates the Fair Housing Act.

The alliance, which represents a group of more than 200 state and local civil rights organizations, is questioning whether such racial information appearing near home sales transactions violates federal law.

These advocates have come after brokerages in the past over the use of such data. For example, in 2009, lawyers for the alliance issued federal fair housing complaints to the Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development against the real estate brokerage site for using such data on its site, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The alliance's lawyers argued that the inclusion of racial statistics for the neighborhood surrounding property listings "may have the effect of steering prospective homebuyers away … and undermining the promotion of racial integration, one of the purposes of the Fair Housing Act."

Movoto agreed to remove "pie chart" breakdowns of neighborhood racial characteristics that would be displayed with individual property listings. But, like many other real estate websites, it continues to provide community-level racial information, as well as the number of unmarried partner households and "birthplace for foreign-born population."

Most of the data websites are providing includes the ethnic makeup of an area come from public information from government sources, such as the Census Bureau. As such, some housing experts stand firm that the dissemination of such information in connection with property searches does not violate federal laws.

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