October 6, 2005 – Vol. 41, No. 8

Housing testers find widespread
bias in local real estate market

Yawu Miller

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 against.

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 Latino counterparts.

The results of the tests were not surprising to those who organized the effort.

“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 the time.”

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 were not.

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 to respond.

“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.”





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