Date of Award

June 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


John Yinger


Audit Study, Discrimination Experiment, Fair Housing Awareness, Housing Discrimination, Housing Policy, Rental Housing

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


The papers in this dissertation share a common theme of measuring policy effects in urban markets. Though focusing on different outcomes – access to rental housing, property values, and school enrollments – the desire to understand how policy influences the composition of an urban ecosystem provides the link. A particular emphasis is placed on housing, because housing is simultaneously and a basic requirement for humans to thrive and the primary source of most local finance in the U.S. When policy affects housing, be it directly or indirectly, it can have important and far-reaching consequences. Understanding the intended and unintended consequences of urban policy is thus central to this dissertation research and my future research agenda.

Chapter 1 offers the first evidence of differential treatment occurring across the broad spectrum of racial and protected classes covered under the law. Employing a fully randomized correspondence audit design and a sample of more than 9,500 online housing advertisements, the study offers insight about which protected groups experience the most/least favorable treatment when searching for housing. This study employs a new signaling strategy in order to provide the first evidence of how landlord treatment of rental housing applicants varies across the spectrum of protected classes. The findings suggest rental-housing providers have preferences about tenants and make decisions based on signals communicated in inquiry emails from potential applicants. The findings also suggest differential treatment is generally consistent with theory of agent-based statistical discrimination.

Chapter 2 presents an experiment designed to influence rental agent behavior to increase equal treatment in rental housing. The purpose is to test whether property owners and rental agents will change their behavior in response to being informed about their obligations under fair housing law. The project thus conducts a randomized experiment employs a correspondence housing audit methodology to measure the impact, representing the first time in which the audit methodology is employed to measure the effect of a randomized experiment. The results of the experiment consistently suggest the group of landlords who received information about fair housing law responded at a higher rate than did those who did not receive the treatment email. The primary contribution of this paper, then, is to demonstrate a unique opportunity to test policy interventions aimed at reducing discrimination in a real housing market and at a very low cost. My hope is that the method will be modified and expanded by fair housing agencies, advocates, and other institutions to test and implement policy interventions in hopes of reducing barriers to access in housing.

Chapter 3 examines the impact of a place-based program on urban property values and school enrolments. A recent trend in place-based policy targets college attainment by offering tuition scholarships for qualified students in under-resourced public schools. In an era of rising college costs, these programs represent a potentially large financial benefit to those living within the attendance zones of qualifying schools. The benefit of such programs should be capitalized into local property values and school district enrolment, as programs are directly linked to attendance zones. This research thus examines the impact a large scholarship program, Say Yes to Education, has on school enrolments and property values in upstate New York. Examining district enrollment from 2000 through 2014, the analysis finds that after years of steady declines in enrollments, both Syracuse and Buffalo saw enrollment increases that coincide with the adoption of the Say Yes to Education program. These increases occurred at different points in time in each city. The housing values results provide some evidence that increases in housing prices accompanied the adoption of Say Yes in Syracuse, but not in Buffalo. These results are consistent with findings that enrolment growth in Buffalo may have been driven by students who would otherwise have attended private schools, while enrollment growth in Syracuse may have been driven by students who would otherwise have attended school in the surrounding suburbs. Combined with the enrolment effects, the analysis suggests that the ability of place-based scholarships to attract residents into a central city is likely to depend on both the specific provisions of the program and the context in which it is implemented.


Open Access