Law enforcement critical

A simple telephone call may be effectively slamming the door shut on many Latinos seeking rental housing in Greater Boston.

That is the finding of a study being released today by the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston. The study – in which 50 pairs of Latino and white renters called landlords, real estate agents and property managers seeking rental units – revealed that in more than 50 percent of the test cases the Latino renters were discriminated against.

The Latino renters were either given different information about the availability of units and/or subjected to more strenuous terms and conditions – including higher rents, application fees and a tougher application process – than the white renters. In all, 26 of the 50 Latino callers experienced discrimination in some form.

Latino rental home seekers were also less likely to have access to agents than white testers and were deterred from making appointments to view the units despite the fact that all the Latino testers were more qualified, according to the study.

“I find the results disturbing because Latino home seekers weren’t even able to get their foot in the door,” said Rashida Ogletree, the education and enforcement coordinator for the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston who conducted the study.

The findings are all the more troubling, according to Ogletree, because the Latino testers had better qualifications – including higher incomes or job statuses. The most common form of discrimination cited in the audit had to do with access to agents and apartments.

For example, in some cases, the Latino renters, who all spoke fluent English but had identifiable accents, were not even called back when they left messages with an agent or landlord inquiring about a rental unit. But their white counterparts who inquired about the same unit were encouraged to view the apartment.

“It was not uncommon for a single home seeker to receive two or three forms of differential treatment during a single phone test with a housing provider,” according to a summary of the audit provided to Banker & Tradesman last week.

The audit, conducted between February and April, does not identify the specific towns and cities where testing was done in the report. David J. Harris, the executive director of the Fair Housing Center, said testing was done in areas where there was “a substantive presence of people of color and immigrants.”

“We looked at several neighborhoods within Boston and several clusters of cities well outside of Boston,” said Harris.

The audit is a follow-up to a similar report released by the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston more than a year ago called “We Don’t Want Your Kind Living Here.” Last year’s study showed that families with children, African Americans and Section 8 holders were discriminated against in at least half of their attempts to find housing.

Ogletree said the Fair Housing Center wanted to examine the Latino population in the first audit, recognizing that the number of Latinos in Greater Boston was growing. However, the center couldn’t recruit enough Latino testers and didn’t have the time or financial resources to do so last year. This year’s survey was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Boston Foundation and the center’s members.

Prospective Partners

When last year’s findings were released, the Fair Housing Center called for more comprehensive training of real estate agents and property owners to prevent discrimination and suggested that the center should partner with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and other Realtor local associations to employ fair housing experts to conduct education, training and outreach programs.

In response to that recommendation last year, a high-ranking GBREB leader said the group would be willing to work with the Fair Housing Center and groups to eradicate discrimination. But last week Harris said that the Fair Housing Center had not followed up with the Realtor board.

“We did welcome their response last year,” said Harris, who added that he looks forward to working with GBREB to implement more rigorous training of agents.

“The Greater Boston Real Estate Board offers a wide array of educational programs for our members as well as nonmembers and a number of those focus in very specifically on fair housing laws,” said Edwin J. Shanahan, chief executive officer of GBREB. “We continue to educate the real estate brokerage and salesperson community as to their obligations under the fair housing laws of the federal government as well as the commowealth of Massachusetts. To that end, we are always happy to work with organizations to try to spread a better understanding of the fair housing laws of the commonwealth. We would continue to work with any organization where there can be some good accomplished.”

Harris said there needs to be ongoing training for housing providers about what their responsibilities are under fair housing laws. Based on the study results, the center also recommends that federal, state and local enforcement agencies “rigorously” enforce fair housing laws and “increase their diligence in processing complaints quickly and adjudicating them,” said Harris.

Also, Harris said real estate agents and property owners should have access to translation services that will allow them to better service people of different national origins.

“We believe that the growth of our population is largely the result of newcomers,” said Harris. “They are important pieces of the marketplace. They are wage earners, they are renters, they are homebuyers. It’s in everybody’s interest to make sure they are well-served.”

Since the release of last year’s audit, the Fair Housing Center has offered training for housing providers and has been getting more calls from real estate agents and landlords requesting guidance on fair housing issues, according to Ogletree.

Anita Hill, who is chairman of the education committee for the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, said a partnership between a Realtor group and the Fair Housing Center is a good idea.

“Oftentimes it’s education that’s the issue, not discrimination,” said Hill.

Fair housing courses are offered by both MAR and GBREB, but real estate agents are not required to take them to as part of their continuing education credits when getting their licenses renewed. Some larger real estate companies also provide training on housing discrimination.

Hill, who said she was disappointed by the study results, suggested it might be a good idea to have a speaker from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination talk to agents about how discrimination affects people and the ramifications of violating fair housing laws. An agent who is found to have violated fair housing laws can be penalized with a temporary license suspension and, in some cases, a fine.

“Whether it was last year’s survey or this year’s survey, the groups that are doing the testing are protected classes,” said Hill. “Those [Section 8 tenants, families, Latinos, African Americans] are all protected classes under the Massachusetts fair housing laws. That’s probably the most disconcerting issue of all because those protected classes are covered in fair housing courses.”

Latinos Face Roadblocks In Boston Rental Market

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min