The Social Structure of Mortgage Discrimination


Housing finance, discriminatory lending, racial equity


In the decade leading up to the US housing crisis, black and Latino borrowers disproportionately received high-cost, high-risk mortgages—a lending disparity well documented by prior quantitative studies. We analyse qualitative data from actors in the lending industry to identify the social structure though which this mortgage discrimination took place. Our data consist of 220 depositions, declarations and related exhibits submitted by borrowers, loan originators, investment banks and others in fair lending cases. Our analyses reveal specific mechanisms through which loan originators identified and gained the trust of black and Latino borrowers in order to place them into higher cost, higher risk loans than similarly situated white borrowers. Loan originators sought out lists of individuals already borrowing money to buy consumer goods in predominantly black and Latino neighbourhoods to find potential borrowers, and exploited intermediaries within local social networks, such as community or religious leaders, to gain those borrowers’ trust.

Original Publication Citation

Steil, Justin, Len Albright, Jacob S. Rugh, and Douglas S. Massey. 2017. “The Social Structure of Mortgage Discrimination: A Qualitative Analysis.” Housing Studies33(5):759-766.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Housing Studies




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor