In light of racial violence from Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month at a white nationalist rally, a nonprofit organization seeks to combat another form of discrimination: housing.
The Equal Rights Center, a nonprofit organization based in northwest D.C. that seeks to eliminate prejudice in the region and nationwide, recently launched an online advice column for those who face inequity in pursuit of affordable housing.
Those who experience a hate crime or other forms of discrimination and may not feel comfortable calling local authorities can fill out a form at https://communitiesagainsthate.org/report to have it catalogued. A representative with Communities of Hate, a coalition of organizations led by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, would respond. It doesn’t state how long a response would take.
“The testing we do is to show discrimination and white supremacy is often times more subtle than what we saw in Charlottesville,” said Kate Scott, deputy director for the center who oversees its fair housing program. “It’s just a manifestation of that same sort of problem.”
The center released a report, “Unlocking Discrimination” (http://bit.ly/2if1JUp), conducted last year where a white woman and black woman posed as single women in search of a one-bedroom or studio apartment. Both had similar criminal backgrounds and either called or visited a leasing or housing agent.
According to the document and out of 47 evaluations completed, 47 percent of agents gave preferential treatment to the white woman and only 11 percent for the black woman. Another 42 percent showed no significant difference between how each woman faired.
The tests were conducted in the District and Northern Virginia, but Scott said tests are currently being done in those jurisdictions and Maryland with results to be published next year.
Although the federal and state laws prohibit housing discrimination based on race, age and sexual orientation, local laws known as “protected classes” help strengthen regulations. For instance, if District residents meet application requirements for rental housing, they can’t be refused rental housing based on source of income.
The city has the most protected classes with 18 among jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area. Those designations include family responsibilities, matriculation and “status as a victim of an intra-family offense,” which means a person who’s a family member, spouse, or significant other shares a residence with someone and is later charged with a crime.
Joel Cohn, legislative director for the city’s Tenant Advocate office, said the District’s diverse range of identifiable classes enables residents to have a better chance to obtain housing.
“Our tenants have seen discrimination, but these protected classes make it harder to incur discrimination,” Cohn said.
The District and at least four other jurisdictions in Maryland — Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties and the city of Frederick — also include source of income protection that ensure landlords can’t turn those away with housing vouchers, or other legal tender to pay for rent.
However, Prince George’s County doesn’t.
Eric Brown, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said landlords have turned away some who don’t meet a private owner’s financial requirements.
“I think any tool that can increase opportunities for housing for people of modest means is definitely warranted,” Brown said.
That’s why, he said, a comprehensive housing strategy will assess not only assess housing needs in the county, but also policies and procedures. It won’t be completed until October 2018.
In the meantime, Equal Rights Center provides a brochure for residents to recognize possible housing infractions:
• Make an appointment to view a property and agent tells you it’s no longer available;
• You’re discouraged from applying for an apartment or home loan event though you qualify; and
• Agent charges you a fee for animal assistance, or provide proof the animal received specific training.
“Housing is one of the most important issues in our country. It provides stability in a community,” Scott said. “Why it is not at the forefront of the conversation is baffling to me.”