In September 2019, the Minneapolis City Council passed a law restricting the use of background checks and credit history in rental housing applications; the new policy goes into effect in June 2020 (Evans 2019). This policy is intended to reduce barriers to housing for formerly incarcerated people and reduce discrimination against people of color in the housing application process. However, previous research has found that similar ban-the-box policies for employment applications increases discrimination against young Black and Latino men (Doleac and Hansen 2016; Agan and Starr 2017). This increase in discrimination may occur because employers have less information on the criminal records of individual job applicants, and, as a result, rely more heavily on racial stereotypes when making decisions. This leads directly to our research question: How does limiting background checks for potential tenants affect racial discrimination in the housing market? Answering this question is essential for developing effective policies to reduce barriers facing formerly incarcerated people and people of color in their search for housing.
To answer this question, we are implementing a field experiment to collect data on housing discrimination in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, before and after the implementation of this new policy. We are implementing “difference in difference” evaluation of the policy - comparing changes in discrimination in Minneapolis (where the policy will be implemented) to changes in discrimination in St. Paul (where the new policy will not be implemented). This will identify the impact of the new policy on housing discrimination.