Apartments and Academia: Research Roundup

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It’s the end of May, when college students across the country are concluding their studies for the year. Many of these students, especially those in the post-graduate levels of education, are enjoying a return to normal life following the completion of research, writing and thesis defenses. But for many of them, the final product of all their work will only be seen by their family, friends, and a handful of professors and academics. (They don’t call it the “Ivory Tower” for nothing.)

As far as I’m concerned it simply isn’t fair to do all that work for such a small audience. So today I’m going to be highlighting some recent dissertations and thesis papers created by Masters and Doctoral students from across the country, from a variety of disciplines, all focusing on some aspect of rental housing.

I don’t know any of these authors personally and have no ties to any of the universities that sponsored their work. I don’t necessarily agree with their methods or their conclusions. But each of these authors and their advisors did a ton of work and I think that someone out here should make an effort to recognize it. I found them by searching through databases of open access dissertations including ProQuest Open, Ebsco, NDLTD and Google Scholar and selected these in an attempt to show the breadth of rental industry scholarship. None of the essays linked below were trapped behind paywalls at the time this article went live.

I know that many of our regular readers were/are also in academia, so I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. If you’re an author of one of the essays linked below and want to discuss your research let us know at @RentConfident on Twitter or Facebook, or drop us a note using our contact form.

Architecture:
Integrating Flexibility and Sustainability to Define a New Net-Zero Apartment Building Prototype
by Amber E. Galko, M.S.
The University of Arizona, 2015, 35 pages

Anthropology:
Defining success in low income housing: Why does it matter?
by Katherine S. Nutter, M.A.
California State University, Long Beach, 2016, 167 pages

Business:
Assessing the Relationship between Employee Training and Organizational Commitment in Rental Housing Management Firms
by Shawn R. Person, Ph.D.
Capella University, 2018, 182 pages

Economics:
The Economic and health consequences of lead paint abatement regulations
by Ludovica A. Gazze, Ph.D.
MIT, 2016, 172 pages

Education:
Resident Retention: Understanding and Predicting On-Campus Residents’ Decisions to Return to Campus Housing
by Kyle David Smith, Ed.D.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2017, 201 pages

Finance:
Ranking of Mortgage Underwriting Criteria for Multifamily Rental Property
by Tejram Basdeo, D.BA
Walden University, 2017, 127 pages

Gerontology:
Intake Resident Assessments for Seniors Living in HUD-Sponsored Affordable Housing Apartment Communities
by Kiara Banks, M.S.
California State University, Long Beach, 2019, 58 pages

History:
Two Windows: The Tenants of the De Freyne Rent Strike 1901-1903
by Daphne Dyer Wolf, Ph.D.
Drew University, 2019, 328 pages

Social Service Administration:
Privatizing Chicago: The politics of urban redevelopment in public housing reforms
by Amy Turnbull Khare, Ph.D.
The University of Chicago, 2016, 319 pages

Sociology:
A policy to protect hoarders: An analysis of Fair Housing Amendments Act, 1988
by Mina Jahan, M.S.W.
California State University, Long Beach. 2015, 81 pages

Urban Studies:
The campaign for the tenant right to purchase in Greater Boston
by David Tisel, M.S.
MIT, 2018, 113 pages

RentConfident is a Chicago startup that provides renters with the in-depth information they need to choose safe apartments. Help us reach more renters! Like, Share and Retweet us!


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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Which Apartment Listing Websites are the Most Accessible?

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Accessibility is a word with multiple meanings. To the layman it refers to how easy it is for someone to get in or out of a location or new concept. Within web design it refers to adjustments made to the design and code of a website to make it useful for visitors with disabilities. Not everyone who visits a website is equally capable of seeing, hearing, moving their hands or reading.

There are several different guidelines published by international web development authorities that can be used to rate the accessibility of websites and individual pages within those sites. The two primary options are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by W3C and Section 508 of the US Workforce Rehabilitation Act. The former list is voluntary. The latter is mandatory for all US federal websites. Both can also be used as metrics for gauging the accessibility of civilian websites, including apartment search sites.

You may have never considered what it’s like to interact with websites when you have a disability. Some of the common problems faced by these users are described in detail on the W3C’s change log for their newer WCAG version 2.1.

Today I’m going to use the Web Accessibilty Evaluation Tool (WAVE) browser extension by WebAIM, which reveals accessibility problems, to analyze seven different popular apartment listing websites. WAVE looks at a site’s code and compares it against the slightly dated version 2.0 of the WCAG and against the Section 508 guidelines. While it doesn’t provide a score, it does provide a summary of important errors, less important alerts, along with the number of adjustments that are in place to improve accessibility.

Here are some of the things that WAVE looks for:

  • Alt text that can be used by screen readers to explain images via screen reader technology.
  • Subtitles, pause/stop and volume controls for videos.
  • Simplified and organized layouts, including proper use of headings and lists.
  • Text with a color contrast of 7:1, which can be resized up to 200% without loss of clarity or content.
  • Text blocks should be no wider than 80 characters, properly spaced.
  • Text should be text, not an image of text.
  • Every link, button and other site interaction should be possible with only a keyboard.
  • No strobe effects.
  • No empty or uninformative links. (e.g., fully linking “For more information click here” or only linking the word “here.”)
  • Properly indicate errors in forms.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list, but it does give you some idea of the sort of things that could throw an error if missing during our review.

For each of these sites, I checked the homepage, a search results page and a listing detail page. I also checked the RentConfident site and the federal Census.gov as points of comparison. For my search term I used “Chicago, IL” with the exception of the Census, where I used “Illinois” for a more robust selection of search results. Listing detail pages were chosen at random. In the case of map based sites I visited listing detail pages directly if possible rather than using the result popups over the map, although I could not find a mapless detail page on Hotpads. For the census site I used the Illinois QuickFacts page as a substitute for listing details. For the RentConfident results I used our blog search results page, and for our detail page I used our sample Signature report, one of the heaviest pages we’ve got.

I should also note that I used the desktop version of all of these sites. There are separate guidelines for mobile sites and apps that go beyond the scope of this article, such as rotation control, zoom control, and far more concessions for those with fine motor disabilities.

In the table below, the column we’ve called “HTML5/ARIA” refers to parts of the underlying code that have been included as a concession for disabled visitors.

Site Problems Concessions Ratio
Errors Contrast
Errors
Alerts Total Structure
Elements
HTML5/ARIA Total Prob. : Conc.
Apartments.com
Main 44 100 31 175 69 32 101
Search 897 130 157 1184 158 154 312
Detail 64 125 124 313 191 69 260
Totals 1005 355 312 1672 418 255 673 2.5 : 1
Craigslist Chicago
Main 6 2 3 11 67 12 79
Search 22 127 133 282 16 318 334
Detail 1 4 5 10 8 25 33
Totals 29 133 141 303 91 355 446 1 : 1.5
Hotpads
Main 33 94 8 135 76 3 79
Search 143 139 32 314 49 51 100
Detail 99 77 17 193 30 52 82
Totals 275 310 57 642 155 106 261 2.45 : 1
Padmapper
Main 1 70 1 72 4 4 8
Search 12 173 3 188 2 460 462
Detail 51 71 8 130 19 129 148
Totals 64 314 12 390 25 593 618 1 : 1.6
Realtor.com
Main 15 33 81 129 78 118 196
Search 89 142 161 392 169 64 233
Detail 54 24 203 281 156 135 291
Totals 158 199 445 802 403 317 720 1.1 : 1
Zillow
Main 4 9 89 102 64 19 83
Search 137 123 94 354 146 136 282
Detail 14 42 92 148 88 215 303
Totals 155 174 275 604 298 370 668 1 : 1.1
Zumper
Main 16 37 8 61 23 87 110
Search 15 74 5 94 63 74 137
Detail 10 112 14 136 24 136 160
Totals 41 223 27 291 110 297 407 1 : 1.4
Census.gov
Main 11 16 50 77 17 27 44
Search 10 64 85 159 16 49 65
Detail 89 54 19 162 74 82 156
Totals 110 134 154 398 107 158 265 1.5 : 1
RentConfident
Main 14 22 4 40 18 12 30
Search 11 21 100 132 23 43 66
Detail 12 10 19 41 66 106 172
Totals 37 53 123 213 107 161 268 1 : 1.3

Analysis

We went into this with the thought that some sites would be considerably more accessible than others, and also the thought that no site would be perfectly accessible. We were proven correct on both counts. Even the Census site, which as a federal government site must adhere to the Section 508 guidelines, was found to be lacking with one of the weaker error to concession ratios.

We were quite pleased that RentConfident came out with the lowest number of total errors and one of the better error to concession ratios, but given that even our own site had some pretty glaring errors we’re not exactly covered in glory here. (We’ll work on it.)

Search result pages were the main stumbling block for most of these sites. It’s easy to understand why this could occur, given how many moving parts are involved in the common map-based layout used by most of them. Color contrast was another big problem, and one that the good folks who work in web design graphics departments must confront daily. High contrast sites just don’t look all that pretty. Fortunately there are browser addons that can help those with trouble seeing low contrast text to adjust the colors of a website independently, but it is of course far more pleasant to be able to browse the web without such tools regardless of your eyesight.

Apartments.com had a shockingly high number of errors across the board, especially when compared with some of the other options. However when viewed strictly from the perspective of error to concession ratio, Hotpads was almost as bad. They might have had fewer errors, but they’re simply doing nothing at all to help offset them.

In terms of raw errors, we were surprised to see the graphic-heavy Zumper actually holding its own against the notoriously bland Craigslist, proving that it is possible to make a visually appealing site without sacrificing too much in terms of accessibility.

Of course, all the objective scoring in the world cannot compare with the actual experience of browsing through apartment listings with a disability. Map-based listing sites with all their tiny pins can be torture for someone who cannot use a mouse or someone lacking in visual acuity. Comparing Zillow’s pale purple map pins, Apartments.com’s dark green pins and Hotpads’ orange pins with the mindset of someone with these limitations made it very clear to us that the user experience for the disabled can vary greatly even across sites with almost identical interfaces. Craigslist and Realtor.com win the day on the map front by offering optional maps but defaulting to text or image based search results.

None of the sites we visited used videos prominently so they were all mostly spared from the animation-related guidelines.

Overall, for apartment hunters with disabilities we recommend the current versions of Padmapper, Zumper or Craigslist, not only for their comparatively low number of errors but also for the efforts they’re making to increase the accessibility of their sites. Congrats to all three companies and thank you for going the extra mile.

If you find this topic of interest, maybe you can try out WAVE yourself on a few sites that you visit regularly and see how they stack up. Let me know in the comments if you find any superstars or completely inaccessible sites.

RentConfident is a Chicago startup that provides renters with the in-depth information they need to choose safe apartments. Help us reach more renters! Like, Share and Retweet us!

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Chicago Deserves Better Than Rent Control.

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I’m going to admit right off the bat that I am absolutely terrified of writing this article. The topic of rent control in Chicago has been on my to-do list since it hit the news in early 2018 and every time since then that I’ve looked at that line item I’ve flinched and avoided it. We covered it a little in our newsletter back in March when it was on the primary ballot. It’s never been mentioned in depth in the blog. But nothing going forward in this blog can really be addressed without taking on the matter, and I did recently promise one of my industry colleagues that I would finally go on the record about it, so here we are.

Meet This Article’s Cities

For this article we will be comparing the rental data for a selection of cities and neighborhoods within those cities, each chosen for a specific purpose. We will, of course, be looking at Chicago, which has its own Residential Landlord-Tenant Ordinance.

We will be looking at San Francisco and New York City, which both have RLTOs but also have rent control. Yes, I could have also included Los Angeles and DC. I could have included a lot of cities. I am one person and this article is already long enough as it is. If you want to take this data and run with an expansion that’s totally fine with me. Continue reading Chicago Deserves Better Than Rent Control.

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Falling Elevators and Other Unforeseen Apartment Catastrophes

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Apartment buildings, much like human bodies, contain a lot of complex things that most people do not understand hidden beneath a thin covering. Most of us only understand how to work with that covering, decorating it and accessorizing, while trusting a handful of highly trained specialists to keep the rest of the system running smoothly. In both cases, sometimes regular visits to these specialists can detect hidden problems before they become major catastrophes.

But sometimes coincidences and outside forces sneak up on us in ways we don’t expect and things rapidly spiral out of control. We put too much sudden strain on a bone and it breaks. Our office has a round of layoffs and we start getting stress headaches. Our kids go back to school and bring home new viruses, causing the entire family to get the sniffles. Engineers at a skyscraper replace connecting hardware in an elevator, perhaps slightly different from the old hardware, perhaps slightly out of alignment, and three years later the rope breaks causing the elevator to fall with people trapped inside. Continue reading Falling Elevators and Other Unforeseen Apartment Catastrophes

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.

Why Are There No Mobile Home Parks in Chicago?

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A recent guest of mine in from out of town commented to me on the absence of trailer parks in the city. This remark brought to the forefront a topic that I’ve been meaning to discuss for some time.

Manufactured housing. Modular housing.┬áContainer homes. Mobile homes. They all have assorted differences but they have two things in common. The first is that they are constructed in factories somewhere other than the land they’re intended to occupy. The other is that they are very, very scarce on the ground in Chicago. In any other city a blog about rental housing would spend a whole lot of time talking about mobile home parks but we’ve barely touched on them at all because there’s really no overlap between mobile home renters and Chicago renters.

There is one mobile home park in Chicago. It’s located at 4000 E. 134th Street on the far south side smack up against the border of Indiana and it’s called Harbor Point Estates. There are plenty in the neighboring suburbs, though. In fact, one of the worst airplane crashes in Chicago history occurred in 1979 when a DC-10 taking off from O’Hare landed on a trailer park in Des Plaines, just a few miles from the airport.

The simple reason behind the absence of trailer parks in Chicago is something called “highest and best land use.” The more complicated reason is also “highest and best land use.” So of course we must explain things in more detail. Continue reading Why Are There No Mobile Home Parks in Chicago?

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Published by

Kay Cleaves

Founder and owner of RentConfident. She's the primary developer of the website and research engine code. She's spent over 10 years working in the Chicago rental industry and has assisted with over 1200 leases.