Should real estate websites steer home sales?

Heights Community Congress (HCC) has written here before, alerting readers to what we’ve dubbed “educational redlining,” whereby websites like Zillow.com influence homebuyers to pass up that nice house in a moderate-income community in favor of that also nice house in a more affluent community, based on a color-coded comparison of public school test scores.

We pointed out the research-supported fact that—of course—schools in the more affluent community have higher test scores, because academic achievement has been shown to correlate highly with family economic status, making test scores not a true measure of school “quality.”

We contend that evaluating a school district entails far more than a red, yellow or green dot. It’s a matter of seeing and experiencing for oneself or, if that’s not possible, listening to someone who has.

So many intangibles go into making a school experience what it is. Does a website or a message board like City Data, Zillow, or Trulia really know enough about a given community or school district to purport to provide a fair and balanced evaluation? The website doesn’t have to answer why a test score may be high or low, or even care whether a community thrives or decays as a result of its rating.

A profit-oriented website based in California isn’t qualified to tell us here in northeast Ohio what there is to feel happy about in our schools and our communities, yet it does a very good job of providing focus for the things we could worry about. As gatekeepers of public perception, websites can shape the public’s view, reinforce stereotypes and, yes, steer homebuyers away from an entire school district, community or region. All this influence for a website whose goal might simply be to sell the most expensive house.

Do we need to buy into an opinion just because it is declared on a screen in front of us? HCC is invested in keeping our inner-ring communities and the school districts within them strong and integrated. We urge readers to investigate and experience for themselves what public schools have to offer and what there is to be happy about, such as music students earning awards and acclaim, not only in the region and the state, but internationally as well; teams of middle school students, ably representing the district at an annual Model U.N. Conference; third-graders listening to a story about rabbits and squirrels, and realizing that it’s actually a metaphor for the Holocaust.

To discover what’s in our midst, talk to parents whose children attend public school, attend a concert or event at your neighborhood school, watch a soccer game. You will then be the gatekeeper of your own perception.

To find out what has transpired since HCC’s April 2015 forum on redlining, join us for Educational Redlining – Affecting Communities. This program, jointly sponsored by SEL Experience Project and HCC, will be the focus of the annual Fair Housing Month program on April 29, 7–8:30 p.m., at the Lee Road Library, 2345 Lee Road. Hear your neighbors’ stories and help us devise strategies to counter the power of real estate websites in shaping public perception and influencing home buying in our communities. The event is free; walk-ins are welcome, but advance registration is appreciated, either online at www.heightscongress.org or by phone at 216-321-6775.

Nancy Dietrich

Nancy Dietrich is a 40-year resident of Cleveland Heights. She is a longtime supporter of CH-UH schools, which her four grown children attended and which her four grandsons now attend. She was a 12-year member of CH City Council and is active in the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland and HCC.

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Volume 9, Issue 4, Posted 10:36 AM, 03.10.2016