Race Brokers: Housing Markets and Segregation in 21st Century Urban America

This book examines how housing market professionals—including housing developers, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and appraisers—construct twenty-first-century urban housing markets in ways that contribute to or undermine racial segregation. Drawing on extensive ethnographic and interview data collected in Houston, Texas, the book shows that housing market professionals play a key role in connecting people—or refusing to connect people—to housing resources and opportunities. They make these brokering decisions through reference to racist or equitable, people-affirming ideas. Typically, White housing market professionals draw from racist ideas that rank order people and neighborhoods according to their perceived economic and cultural housing market value, entwining racism with their housing market activities and interactions. Racialized housing market routines encourage this entwinement by naturalizing racism as a professional tool. The book tracks how professionals broker racism across the housing exchange process—from the home’s construction to real estate brokerage, mortgage lending, and home appraisals. In doing so, it shows that professionals make housing exchange a racialized process that contributes to neighborhood inequality and racial segregation. However, in contrast to the racialized status quo, a small number of housing market professionals—almost all of color—draw on equitable, people-affirming ideas and strategies to extend equal opportunities to individuals and neighborhoods, denaturalizing housing market racism. The book highlights the imperative to interrupt the racism that pervades White housing market professionals’ work, dismantle the racialized routines that underwrite such racism, and cultivate a fair housing market.