The Housing Market and Population Vulnerabilities: Perceptions in a Fordist and a Post-Fordist Context

Geographical Review Early View

Madhuri Sharma

American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?

Madhuri Sharma: In this study I test the degrees to which race or class might be influencing people’s home buying decisions in two distinct metropolises of Columbus Ohio and Milwaukee Wisconsin. In 2008, one new conceptual framework — the Market-Led Pluralism (M-LP) — was conceptualized by Brown and Chung who suggested that we are in 21st century and hence the role of race is secondary and it is the market-makers (such as the builders, developers, realtors, and bankers/realtors, etc.) whose influence on consumers is far more important. The main purpose of this study was to examine if consumers’ viewed differently about market-makers and if they also thought that class was more important than race, and if the widely practiced race-based discriminations of the pre-1970s era was totally absent from the housing market practices in the 21st century America. By asking important questions to the consumers, I examine the degrees to which the various market-makers might have influenced their decisions, and how did their race or class influence their decision making. By completing numerous interviews with home owners in both Columbus and Milwaukee, I capture homeowners’ reactions to the forces of housing market and examine if the market-makers’ practices had significantly changed from what used to be widely prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. I test these aspects of this new framework by asking important questions to the people, i.e., the consumers as it is they who make the decisions of where to live and who to live with. These are the consumers who bought homes during the 1990s and 2000s, a time period when too many private and subprime lenders had entered into the market, making it much easier for consumers to buy. At the same time race continued to play succinct roles in influencing their decisions.

American Geographical Society
: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?

Madhuri Sharma: People buy homes as this is one of the several important things that Americans do to achieve their American dream. This paper illustrates various examples of how market-makers might influence peoples’ decisions. There is something to learn from each of these illustrations, and by going through these examples, one can see the subtle ways in which market-makers influence their decisions. People can also learn how racial discrimination can still occur, even if we are in 21st century. Thus, this study introduces us to the practical ways in which a person can still be discriminated especially in the housing market.

American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Madhuri Sharma: There is a lot of similarity and differences that this work suggests. It reaffirms prior scholarly work that race still matters when it comes to making home buying decisions and that people get steered into specific geographic locations when making such decisions. (e.g., Charles 2000, 2003, Darden & Kamel 2000, etc.). At the same time, this research also suggests that class is also very important (e.g. Clark and Blue), especially when one looks at the affordability of different communities. In this study, I show how class and race can get blurred and how certain communities feel more pressured due to their disadvantaged position of belonging to minority races, especially when it comes to buying homes. Thus, this study reaffirms findings by many other prior research, and at the same time, it also suggests how people’s perceptions in two different types of cities suggest different degrees of the influence of race and class on their decision making.

American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?

Madhuri Sharma: Given these two cities’ (Milwaukee and Columbus) similar size yet divergent economic contexts, this research finds important differences between each city’s interviewees regarding the roles of class and race in home-buying decisions. While Columbus respondents largely reaffirmed the primacy of class in home-buying, those in Milwaukee were outspoken about the role of race, and they gave many illustrations to support that. I also find that many respondents are influenced by the market-makers to some extent, especially if they are first time home-buyers. Few other consumers were pushed/steered by their realtors into buying homes in undesirable places as they belonged to minority races – thus suggesting crucial ways in which race was still an important factor. On other instances, people from white communities were also steered, but the net outcome was a good and desirable location, and they were happy with those practices. This study, thus, provides evidence of race and class both playing into home buying decisions, and hence adds a new perspective to the framework of Market-Led Pluralism.

American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?

Madhuri Sharma: This study aimed at adding new perspectives to the framework of Market-Led Pluralism by empirically testing it in two distinct metropolises of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio. Findings from this study add new elements to the framework from a multi-city and consumers perspective. Racial/ethnic clusters are formed based on class and affordability even within racially homogeneous communities, and this evidence was found in both metropolises. This study also reaffirms that the role of race is still crucial in understanding home buying decisions, and more so in the Fordist Milwaukee where long lasting historical remnants of racial discrimination still persist. This study, thus, adds new elements to the framework of M-LP in that the significance of race still persists even though we are in 21st century and that the market-elements ignoring the influence of race is not a dated concept.

American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?

Madhuri Sharma: Race and class are important topics within the broader realm of urban social and urban economic geography, especially when it comes to understanding its spatial manifestations in the western world. This will continue to dominate contemporary American landscapes and hence as geographers, it is very important to address these contemporary and contentious issues. This research connects the role of place and space and how people residing there affect various decisions in their everyday life and how those decisions get manifested in creating distinct social landscapes. This research, thus, informs people about important issues pertaining to the influence of race and class in our everyday life.

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