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Issue 481, 7 May 2002

Housing study seeks cause of 'divided communities'

The most extensive survey of housing patterns amongst the Asian communities of Leeds and Bradford is being undertaken by geography researchers at the University of Leeds. Deborah Phillips and Rachael Unsworth (pictured left – r-l) aim to identify the motivations and aspirations of the Asian population with regard to housing.

Dr Phillips said: "Following the riots last summer, both the press and politicians talked about 'divided worlds' and 'communities living in parallel'. Segregation does exist, where people live and are schooled, but this was painted as a completely negative phenomenon, with the Asian communities accused of not wanting to integrate.

"In fact, our initial findings show that most Asian households would be happy to live in mixed communities, but are prevented from doing so by poverty, discrimination in housing institutions and fear of racial harassment."

The researchers have found that discrimination still exists, amongst estate agents, council housing officials and housing associations, who tend to 'steer' whites to white areas and Asians to Asian areas, reinforcing the segregation. This was despite the fact that on the questionnaires, Asian households said they had no reticence to 'mixing', in schools or communities, and in fact saw living in a mixed area as a positive option, although there was a fear of racial harassment and isolation if the area had few other Asian households.

There are also positive reasons for wanting to remain within a certain community, such as the cultural or family support and religious provision it provides, and this isn't always evidence of an unwillingness to mix, as Dr Phillips explains: "Although having certain Asian or white areas is seen as automatically negative, it's actually quite common for groups to congregate together. This happens already on the basis of class, as well as ethnicity. What causes the problem is when these areas become run-down and deprived, and households are financially unable to move to better areas."

The researchers have talked to focus groups within the Asian communities, carried out interviews with community members, estate agents and housing officials from councils and associations, and collected over 400 detailed questionnaires from Asian households on their housing situation and aspirations. They are analysing the census figures from 2001 – the first to include information on religion – and have carried out a name analysis on the electoral registers from 1991, to plot the movement of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh households over the last 10 years.

The results of the ESRC-funded project are to be published in the autumn, when researchers will first make them public to the communities who took part in the study.

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