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City of Seattle
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SUBJECT: Parents and Non-White Renters Still Face Housing Discrimination, According to City’s New Study

5/12/2000  1:00:00 PM
Jo Ellen Warner (206) 684-4538
Roberto Bonaccorso  (206) 684-5282

Parents and Non-White Renters Still Face Housing Discrimination, According to City’s New Study

Housing discrimination remains a poisonous weed encroaching on our community, deeply-rooted and difficult to eradicate, according to a study just issued by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR).

Mayor Paul Schell joined SOCR to release the findings of a new Fair Housing Audit at a press conference on April 24. The study utilized paired testers in 60 separate real-life situations to find out if Seattle renters experience discrimination because of their race or parental status.

In several cases involving racial discrimination, apartment owners showed an available unit to a White tester shortly after telling a Black tester that there were no vacancies. In other instances, landlords quoted higher rental rates or deposits to Black testers than to White. Black testers also found themselves on the receiving end of rude treatment and intrusive questions.

In cases involving parental status, landlords gave out different rental rates and other information over the telephone to testers with children; in some cases they refused to make an appointment with testers to view the unit.

"The good news is that well over half of the testing conducted showed no evidence of any

discrimination," said Seattle Mayor Paul Schell. "But clearly we need to do better. Even in cases where discrimination is unintentional, the effects are just as harmful. Discrimination against any individual or family is an insult to all of us in this city. It does not reflect who we are as citizens of Seattle."

Results show race-based discrimination more prevalent

In tests for race-based discrimination, 23% of tests (7 tests) showed discrimination against Black home-seekers. The discrimination included differences in rental terms, service and treatment. Testers encountered evidence of discrimination in another 13% of cases, although these results were deemed inconclusive, and may warrant further testing. Sixty-six percent of the tests showed no significant differences in treatment, information or services.

In the parental-status tests, 13% (4 tests) showed discrimination against families with children. Thirty percent (9 tests) were inconclusive, and may warrant further testing. Fifty-seven percent of the tests showed no evidence of discrimination.

Testers posed as renters in person, over the telephone

To conduct the audit, paired testers posed as prospective renters who resembled each other in all respects except for their protected class status. In each of the 30 tests for racial discrimination, one tester was African American and the other was White. SOCR contracted with the Fair Housing Center of Puget Sound to conduct 30 on-site tests at locations throughout the Seattle area. The organization also conducted 30 telephone tests for discrimination based on parental status. In each case, one tester posed as married with no children, and the other as married with two children. Race and parental status are legally protected classes under Seattle’s Fair Housing Ordinance, as well as under state and federal law.

All of the properties selected for auditing were in zip codes which had generated the most complaints of raced-based (African American) or parental status discrimination in 1998. The zip codes included 98102, 98103, 98104, 98105, 98107, 98109, 98112, 98116, 98118, 98122 and 98125. The properties in these zip codes all had vacancies at the time we were conducting the audit. Both on-site and telephone tests occurred from October through December 1999.

Goal is prevention, not punishment

"The results of the study will serve as an educational tool," said SOCR Director Germaine Covington. "Our goal is to increase compliance with Fair Housing Laws by publicizing the results of the testing program. The information we have gathered will help us provide guidance in fair housing practices to the public and to property managers and landlords."

SOCR plans to conduct further testing in the future. If properties which tested positive or inconclusive for discrimination in this audit do not show improvement, SOCR may take further action, including filing charges based upon the results of future tests.

SOCR offers ongoing training opportunities for landlords and property managers on fair housing issues. For more information call (206) 684-4500. April is National Fair Housing Month.

Some positive responses from property managers after audit reveals discrimination

Within 24 hours of releasing the Fair Housing Audit, SOCR had fielded phone calls from most of the landlords whose properties tested positive for discrimination.

"All of the callers told me they take information like this very seriously," said Barbara Osinski, SOCR’s Enforcement Manager. "Most already had sat down with their staffs to discuss the findings and to reiterate their own anti-discrimination policies."

It wasn’t just talk. A total of nearly 40 property managers enrolled in a "Fair Housing" training held just two days after the audit was released – almost 50% more than usually attend these HUD-sponsored events.

"One landlord explained to me that the individual who had greeted the African American tester was no longer with the company in any capacity," said Osinski. "The message I am getting from property managers is that the audit opened their eyes to practices that could be considered discriminatory, even if there was no conscious intent."

One property manager’s response concerned Osinski as much as the findings themselves. The manager attempted to justify the disparity between the prices quoted to the testers by saying, "Our prices are subject to change at any time. " The tests had been performed an hour apart.

Several landlords also contacted Osinski to criticize the secretive nature of the study, as well as the fact it was publicized. At the press briefing on April 24 to announce the findings, the media was given the names of all the buildings targeted by the audit. Addresses and owners’ names were omitted. Landlords whose properties tested positive received notice of the results on the same day as the press conference called to announce the overall findings.

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Office for Civil Rights

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