It is not news to anyone that systemic racism is an issue in the United States. What might surprise people, however, is that Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is being used to further cement racism into our housing system. In a court case in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas division, one company was caught using AI Technology to discriminate against certain classes of people based on race, skin color, or other demographics. The company was deceptively assigning criminal records in the final report to the tenants they did not want living in the apartment community. The AI knew the criminal records did not belong to the applicant. However, the technology had been educated to accomplish this task. RealPage, the company that created the AI technology, paid a $3 million fine to halt the investigation into their practices.
So, what exactly is happening here and just how widespread is this practice? RealPage developed a software platform for property managers all over the country to use in maintaining properties and managing tenants. RealPage employs AI technology to help property managers maximize profits. This AI technology has been taught to discriminate against tenants, and given the ubiquitous state of RealPage in the property management industry, this practice has spread.
What can we do about it? Well, currently the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is the agency tasked with protecting consumers from this type of discrimination. Unfortunately, our President is leading the charge for the CFPB’s destruction. The CFPB, the same organization that called for shorter, clearer language in mortgage agreements and that obtained full restitution from Wells Fargo for its customers that had accounts fraudulently opened under their names, is the target of a Supreme Court Case calling for its complete dissolution. Conservatives like Trump and Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, believe the financial industries can govern themselves, and that the CFPB takes away too much power from the Executive Branch.
Unfortunately, there is a lot more to this story of RealPage, AI technology, and the housing system as we know it. I recently published a book of my complete findings, “Stealing Home: How Artificial Intelligence Is Hijacking the American Dream.” In it, I explore how property managers have been using RealPage and the consequences for tenants around the country, including sky-rocketing rental rates and increased homelessness. Our housing system has changed, and tenants and homeowners are losing a battle against AI they didn’t even know they were fighting, let alone the rules of the war in which they are engaged.
James Nelson is the author of “Stealing Home: How Artificial Intelligence Is Hijacking the American Dream.” A recent Kirkus Review raved “The author fears that given the industry’s reliance on models generated by artificial intelligence, ‘discrimination will, over time, become the norm within the model itself,’ as computers are fed data reflecting America’s systematic racial inequities. Though he paints a grim picture of a complex subject, Nelson’s righteous anger makes this book a must-read for not only those in the real estate and banking industries but also for anyone who seeks to understand why, in the words of activist Jimmy McMillan, the ‘Rent is Too Damn High.’