When Picket Report was named one of Detroit's best tech startups of 2011, questions lingered as to whether its data-driven model for helping homebuyers find their "perfect neighborhood" could lead to homogenized communities. The launch of their online search tool this week proved that homogenization wasn't the only cause for concern, however. Racial and ethnic stereotyping are, too.
Creators of the website, which is backed by Quicken Loans, the largest online mortgage lender in the country, described their comprehensive service as a "Carfax report for the house," an aggregation of more than 100 million pieces of data, that they say dig deep into the everyday lives of the people who could potentially be your neighbors. "It's stuff like people watch HGTV because they like doing their own home improvements, they like the idea of driving a Ford car but most likely drive a used Ford," co-founder Bryan Kunka told The Huffington Post last year.
With fair housing laws preventing real estate agents from telling you exactly who lives in the neighborhood, Picket Report essentially provides that information for you. But screenshots taken Thursday by real-estate website Curbed revealed some rather stereotypical categorizations.
A search in Detroit's 48208 zip code, for example, yielded neighborhood breakdowns that described residents as "Struggling Societies," an "economically challenged mix of singles, divorced and widowed individuals in smaller cities and urban areas looking to make ends meet." Another group, called the "Soul Survivors," was said to consist of "older, down-scale African-American singles and single parents established in modest urban homes." And another, the "Ciudad Strivers," was described as "mid-scale, Hispanic families and single parents in gateway communities."
More affluent neighbors included "Asian Achievers," whose were said to be "enjoying dynamic lifestyles in metro areas;" and "Silver Sophisticates, mature, upscale couples and singles in suburban homes."
Incidentally, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, who reportedly helped hatch the idea for Picket Report, has been credited as the third-largest landlord in Detroit, behind the city and General Motors, controlling more than 1.6 million square feet of real estate.
Following the backlash it received from Curbed and other media, Picket Report removed the lifestyle content from its site and co-founder Brian Bandemer issued the following statement in an email to the Huffington Post.
Earlier today, we were made aware of some offensive and unacceptable content on Picketreport.com. Our website aggregates content created by third party vendors. In this case, we did not carefully review the neighborhood descriptions, which are provided by a vendor, prior to the launch of our site yesterday. As soon as we became aware of the content, we removed it.
This is a tremendously embarrassing and humbling experience for our young company, and one we regret more than we can explain. We promise to find a new and better way to share community information in a way that is informative and not offensive.
We apologize profusely for this experience and anyone we may have offended.