Whether you are trying to buy a home, apply for a rental property, or you’re looking for a roommate, there are an endless number of brand new companies and digital products offering to help you do just that. They promise speed, efficiency, and a modern approach to slow and sometimes exclusionary rental or homeownership processes.
These new companies are venture-backed and digitally-enabled—and they play an increasingly influential role in the economy. From new modes of housing construction to automated home buying, tech-enabled companies promise to scale to massive market share and reap higher valuations along the way.
As unprecedented capital investment flows into this space, venture-backed companies’ winner-take-all approach to growth has the potential to exacerbate inequality in the housing space. Under these conditions, startups’ disruption mindset creates a risky landscape that could—without ethical frameworks and processes to ensure equitable outcomes—dramatically accelerate racial and economic inequities.
The Tech, Bias, and Housing Initiative examines these potential harms and biases through comprehensive research, corporate practice, and public policy advocacy.
What we know
the key takeaways from a year of research
Alternative paths to homeownership like rent-to-own echo discriminatory and predatory practices of the past.
Algorithms used to determine who gets housing are opaque, predictive, and frequently based on inaccurate data.
Digital property management tools are enabling companies to acquire and manage vast portfolios of single-family properties, often optimizing profit at the renters’ expense.
Proptech brings in venture capital, whose model pressures companies to sacrifice what’s in the best interest of renters and potential homeowners to provide maximum returns to investors.
an ethical practice guide for proptech companies
Proptech companies can adopt business practices today that reduce (and even reverse) existing bias and inequity. The Ethical Practice Guide offers a framework to ensure their work helps end our housing crisis, not make it worse.
Implement a company-wide education program that highlights the history and context of housing inequity and explores the way your company fits into that story
Utilize a data minimization framework and discrimination testing to proactively reduce harm and measure impact
Provide clear, actionable pathways for employees to raise ideas, concerns, and opportunities for improvement
Provide transparent and easy-to-understand information for users and customers
Provide opportunities for customers or stakeholders who feel like they’ve been harmed to seek recourse
Engage in the broader societal conversation about housing—and use your position to advocate for change
the initiative focus for the coming years
Working closely with partners from across the housing ecosystem, we’ll advance public policy that protects against the worst potential harms of Proptech. We’re starting by investigating tenant screening tools to understand whether and how they may result in discrimination. We’ll use this research to craft strategic, targeted policy solutions.
Over the course of our research we’ve connected with Proptech founders, executives, and employees who express a desire to develop better ethical practices as they grow their companies. We have outlined a practice guide that all Proptech companies can adopt to mitigate harm and we’ll provide resources and guidance to those that take action to implement it.
The Proptech sector is extremely fluid, and the market dynamics are changing quickly. We’ll continue to follow the space and produce reports as new areas of interest or concern emerge. We’re currently tracking the rise of crypto and blockchain in the Proptech sector and plan to release a briefing on the topic in mid-2023.
Read our research papers for a deeper dive
It’s time to take a closer look at tenant screening tools that can be the gateway to rental housing and the impact they have on housing accessibility.
Aspiring homeowners are turning to alternative home financing options such as rent-to-own. But this model can be just as perilous as it is promising.
Tech is enabling an emerging new class of corporate landlords that exacerbate harm and take advantage of increasingly desperate renters and would-be homeowners.