A Black person inquiring about an apartment called an agent about an advertised place to rent, and a White person in New Orleans did the same two hours later. According to a new report from the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center, in the test scenario that the center arranged, the agent wouldn’t show the advertised place to the Black person but invited the White person to view it.
The fair housing center, which investigates housing discrimination, conducted 75 paired tests in the greater New Orleans area and concluded that “African American testers experienced differential treatment 57% of the time.”
That differential treatment can include a refusal to rent — as in the example above — but it can also include Black renters being told of fewer available units than White renters, agents making discouraging remarks to them about the property, agents steering potential Black renters to other properties, failing to follow up with them after a showing or offering White renters better terms.
“White testers were regularly offered discounts when they went to see properties that Black testers weren’t offered,” said Maxwell Ciardullo, director of policy and communications for the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. Those discounts included a free month of rent, discounted application fees, discounted security deposits, etc.
The fair housing center conducted similar tests in Jackson, Miss., Houston and Dallas. “If you added up all the different tests we did in all four cities,” Ciardullo said, “it amounted to almost $10,000 in what we call ‘The White Renter Discount.’ This has incredible impacts on not just where people have access to live, but how much they pay.”
Across the four cities they studied, the fair housing group sent out 240 groups of testers and concluded that Black people asking about properties experienced differential treatment on 126 occasions, or 53% of the time.
The center encountered a situation in Mississippi that was so egregious that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development got involved. HUD found that a property manager, James Roe, allegedly told a Black tester that if he put her in the unit she sought, “The old men would have a heart attack. They would be thinking that I had let the zoo out again.” He allegedly told a subsequent White tester that she’d be a great fit for the building and that he risked being fired if he wasn’t careful about who he placed there.
Ciardullo said that Roe — who is being sued by the DOJ — was one of the more egregious cases of discrimination, so legal action was able to be taken relatively quickly.
“The whole point of the investigation is to make sure we’re holding folks and landlords who discriminate accountable,” he said.
“If anything seems suspicious or doesn’t feel right, document your interactions with the agent or property manager and call the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center at 877-445-2100,” Ciardullo said.