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Housing Discrimination: African-Americans, Hispanics Still Paying Higher Costs

African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians looking to purchase or rent homes are shown fewer available units than whites, asked more questions about their finances, and charged higher rents, deposits and fees, according to a national study commissioned by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In its fourth study since 1977, the agency found that while overt cases of discrimination have diminished over time, people of color still face widespread bias that causes them to pay more annually, leading to  a weaker accumulation of wealth.

“Although we’ve come a long way from the days of blatant, in-your-face housing injustice, discrimination still persists,” Shaun Donovan, the department’s secretary, told reporters in a telephone conference on Tuesday when the findings were unveiled. “And just because it has taken on a hidden form doesn’t make it any less harmful.”

The study conducted 8,000 tests in 28 metropolitan areas using one white and one minority tester of the same gender and age, both posing as equally well-qualified renters or buyers and visiting the same housing provider or agent.

Both testers were shown the same number of apartments or homes in more than half the test cases, but in cases where one tester was shown more homes or apartments, the white tester was usually favored, leading to a higher number of units shown to whites overall.

In 1977, in 17 percent of the cases whites were offered a unit when blacks were told that none were available, but in the new study conducted in 2012, the vast majority of all testers were able to at least make an appointment to see a recently advertised house or apartment. 

But after they arrived, their experiences differed: Black prospective renters were presented 11 percent fewer rentals than whites; Hispanics about 12 percent fewer rentals; and Asians about 10 percent fewer rentals.

As prospective buyers, blacks were presented 17 percent fewer homes and Asians 15 percent fewer homes, but Hispanics were given the opportunity to see roughly the same number of homes as whites. Researchers were not sure why Hispanics were treated better than blacks and Asians under this circumstance.

In addition, and just as pernicious, white testers were more frequently offered lower rents, told that deposits and other move-in costs were negotiable, or were quoted a lower price.

“The findings probably understate the overall levels of discrimination in the market today,” said Margery Austin Turner, a senior vice president at the Urban Institute, which conducted the study.

The Urban Institute found no substantial differences across cities or regions in the 28 markets tested.

John Taylor, the president and chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which seeks to improve housing in underserved communities, pointed out that many Americans in polls think financially stable customers have the same opportunities to obtain good housing regardless of race.

“A study like this,” he said, “helps you understand that there really is very different treatment occurring when it comes to things like housing and lending.”

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