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Housing Discrimination and Negative Attitudes Towards Ex-Offender Parents

Julie Wertheimer-Meier, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


While the Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination because of race, gender, religion, sex, disability, family status, and national origin, it allows housing providers to discriminate on the basis of criminal history. Prior research shows that housing providers disproportionately deny housing to ex-offender applicants and single parent applicants with young children. An ex-offender parent’s inability to acquire safe and affordable housing decreases the potential for reunification with their children and increases the risk of lost custody or parental rights termination. This dissertation consisted of two experiments that examined the effects of negative attitudes towards ex-offender parents on those parents’ ability to access safe and affordable housing. Experiment 1 was an experimental audit study which collected data in response to inquiries from an alleged single parent ex-offender rental applicant. Posing as an interested applicant, I emailed housing providers in cities across the U.S. with variations in criminal history (yes vs no) and family status (living alone vs living with an adult sibling vs living with a child) to ostensibly inquire about an apartment to rent. The housing providers took longer to respond, were more likely to respond negatively, and were less likely to send an application to an applicant with a criminal history than one who did not disclose a prior offense. They were also significantly less likely to respond, but more likely to respond negatively, to applicants with a child than those who lived alone or with an adult sibling. In a two-phase online experimental community survey, Experiment 2 measured the participants’ implicit and explicit attitudes towards ex-offenders and single parents before employing a fractional factorial design to assess how individuals acting as rental agents weighed the applicant’s race, gender, income, criminal history, and family status in the decision-making process. Participants were more likely to rent to an unknown applicant over a target applicant with a prior felony conviction (compared to no felony conviction). Explicit, but not implicit, attitudes towards both ex-offenders and single parents also predicted the rental decision.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Urban planning|Social structure|Family and consumer sciences

Recommended Citation

Wertheimer-Meier, Julie, "Housing Discrimination and Negative Attitudes Towards Ex-Offender Parents" (2023). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI30811861.