Home & Leisure

Language in Seattle-area rental ads divides neighborhoods along racial lines, study finds

By Katherine Khashimova Long, The Seattle Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Take, for instance, these two advertisements, quoted in the study:

For an apartment complex in Bitter Lake, where 45% of residents are nonwhite, compared to 33% in the city as a whole: "Step out back and find a nice stretch of private grass at your disposal ... 24 Hour security in complex."

For a building on Capitol Hill, where 25% of residents are nonwhite: "A vintage building with extremely modern conveniences! Located at the intersection of several main streets ... there are endless options for entertainment."

Both units are near parks, grocery stores, cafes and bars, said UW doctoral student Ian Kennedy, the primary author of the study. But whereas rental ads portray Capitol Hill and other predominantly white neighborhoods as exciting and central, ads like the one for the Bitter Lake unit suggest "non-White neighborhoods ... need to be adorned" - with amenities like lawns and pools - "and secured to be suitable for habitation," the study authors wrote.

The contrast could indicate what kind of community ad-writers assume prospective renters will value, said Kennedy.

The study didn't make any conclusions about how the language in advertisements might directly sustain neighborhood segregation. But the authors hypothesized the racially coded language may signal to apartment hunters where Seattle's white residents live, prompting them to exclude certain neighborhoods from their housing search. Previous research from the UW has shown people tend to live around others who look like them.


The study expands on research into why neighborhood segregation persists when explicit discrimination has been outlawed for decades.

"In Seattle, there's been a perception since the early 1900s that there's been a connection between race and housing value," said UW professor emeritus Quintard Taylor, who has chronicled the history of Seattle's Black community.

Developers, lenders, landlords, real estate agents, property managers and homeowners codified Seattle's neighborhood segregation, with tools including covenants that prohibited nonwhite people from living in certain neighborhoods and lending practices that made it more difficult for nonwhite residents to obtain home loans. Those practices "pretty much guaranteed that Black folks were going to live in the Central District," Taylor said.

Rental units were also segregated, archived copies of The Seattle Times show: As late as the early 1970s, prospective renters scanning classifieds in this newspaper would learn that some units were "restricted" - code for "whites only."


swipe to next page
(c)2020 The Seattle Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.