WASHINGTON — Minority renters and homebuyers deployed to test for housing discrimination did not run into the blatant discrimination of four decades ago, but were told about and shown fewer homes than their white counterparts with similar backgrounds, according to the results of a major federal housing study released Tuesday.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development deployed pairs of testers — one white, one minority in each pair — to do more than 8,000 tests separately across 28 metropolitan areas in the $9 million, study the Obama administration conducted last year. Testers' were the same gender and age and presented themselves as equally qualified to rent or buy a unit in the study whose results were released Tuesday.
The blatant discrimination of literally slamming doors in the face of minorities that was found in a similar 1977 HUD study was less evident: minorities usually were able to get appointments and see at least one unit last year. However, blacks and Asian-Americans were treated differently than white counterparts often given fewer options.
Hispanics were also treated differently when renting, however, experienced generally equal treatment as whites when seeking to buy a home.
“Unfortunately, our findings reveal a sad truth — that the long struggle to end housing discrimination remains unfinished,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters in a telephone news conference.
In one case, an Asian tester was first to see an agent about a two-bedroom unit advertised for rent. She was told it was available and was able to see it, but no other units were made available to her. A couple of hours later, a white tester saw the same agent and the same advertised unit, but she was told about four more two-bedroom units that were available in other places.
“That's typical of the kind of unequal treatment we observed across metropolitan housing markets nationwide,” said Margery Turner, senior vice president for program planning and management at the Washington-based Urban Institute.
“It's fundamentally unfair somebody would get information about fewer homes and apartments just because of the color of their skin. But it also really raises the cost of housing search for minorities and it restricts the housing choices available to them,” Turner said.
Donovan added that discrimination affects minorities' ability to move to communities with better schools, denying their children the best education; to move to safer neighborhoods; and to relocate to an area with job openings, thus affecting financial security.
Turner said paired testing can't capture all the forms of discrimination that might occur. Also because testers presented themselves as unambiguously well qualified for the apartments, the results don't reflect the average minority home seeker. The study's findings may understate the level of discrimination, she said.