Housing testers find widespread
bias in local real estate market
When black and Latino testers working for the Fair Housing Center
of Greater Boston met with brokers from major real estate companies
in the area, most didn’t know they were being discriminated
The brokers were courteous and often encouraging. But, according
to the findings of the study, not nearly as much as they were with
white testers. In 17 out of 36 tests, the black and Latino prospective
homebuyers were discriminated against, according to the report.
When black and Latino testers posed as prospective home buyers,
they experienced vast difference in treatment between white testers
who met with the same brokers, the study found.
The black and Latino testers were steered away from communities
where they sought housing and shown homes in different communities
than those shown to whites.
White home buyers also received greater access to agent services,
were shown more homes and given more listings than their black and
The results of the tests were not surprising to those who organized
“Unfortunately, the results are in line with what we’ve
seen in studies from the 1980s on,” said Nadine Cohen, an
attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. “Whites
and Latinos are treated differently between 50 and 60 percent of
Over an 18-month period, the testers met with real estate brokers
from major firms and asked to see specific listings. Testers of
color and white testers asked to see the same properties to ensure
that they were in contact with the same brokers.
The black and Latino testers were told they must have mortgage pre-approval
letters before making appointments to view homes while white testers
In one instance, a real estate broker informed a white tester that
the owners of a property were motivated to sell, encouraged her
to get a mortgage pre-approval letter and called several times to
follow up on that and other properties.
Although the tester of color had a pre-approval letter, the broker
did not mention the seller’s motivation to sell or any price
breaks. The tester of color received no follow-up phone calls.
The testers of color said they were treated courteously and were
generally not aware that they were being discriminated against,
according to Fair Housing Center Executive Director David Harris.
“If you’re a person of color looking for a home, the
odds are that you will be discriminated against and won’t
know it,” he said.
African Americans, Latinos, Section 8 voucher holders and families
with children are often found to be discriminated against both in
local tests and tests conducted across the nation.
Despite consistent findings of discrimination in fair housing tests,
municipal, state, and federal government agencies have been slow
“Fair housing laws are complaint-driven,” Harris said.
“They depend on people to file complaints to enforce them.
But the chances that a black or Latino home buyer would even know
they’re being discriminated against are slight.”
Harris said the onus is on government officials, real estate industry
professionals and civil rights activists to change the current environment
of discrimination in real estate.
“This audit was designed primarily to know how much discrimination
there is,” he said. “Now that we know, the burden is
on all of us to do the enforcement and education.”