COACH's Pop Quiz!

Q: It’s illegal to refuse to deny housing based on a prospect’s race or color, but you can’t get into fair housing trouble if you merely bend the truth when asked about available units. True or false?


A: False. Don’t allow race to play any part in decisions about who may live in your community. Under the FHA, it’s unlawful to refuse to rent or make housing unavailable to anyone based on their race—or the race of anyone associated with them. It’s also unlawful to deny housing based on an applicant’s race or color by providing different and false information about terms, conditions, and availability of rental properties.

In the August 2020 lesson, Fair Housing Coach focuses on fulfilling your obligation to comply with fair housing rules banning discrimination based on race and color. Spurred by the death of George Floyd, protests across the country have rekindled attention on the Black Lives Matter movement and racial inequities involving policing practices and the criminal justice system. Against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis, the movement has also drawn attention to broader issues of systemic racism in healthcare, employment, and housing.

The fight against racial discrimination and segregation was one of the main reasons that the federal Fair Housing Act was passed more than 50 years ago. In the years that have passed since then, the number of complaints of race discrimination, which once held the top spot, have steadily decreased. Some see the decreasing number of race discrimination complaints as a sign of progress, but fair housing advocates believe racial discrimination has simply gone underground, replaced by more subtle forms of discrimination that are more difficult to detect.

Example: A June 2020 study by a research team from Suffolk University Law School found that Greater Boston landlords and agents discriminate against Black renters and those with Section 8 housing vouchers, illegally shutting out qualified renters. 

According to researchers, the study revealed that housing providers, mostly real estate brokers, showed Black testers about half the number of apartments they showed to white testers. They told white testers that more units were available, showed them more units, offered them more incentives to rent, and made more positive comments about the units.

Overall, the study showed that Black testers faced discrimination in 71 percent of the tests (for example: not being able to make an appointment, not being offered an application, not being offered financial incentives, like a free parking space or rental discount, that were offered to white testers). When agents dealt with Black testers, the incidence of “ghosting”—cutting off communication—was much higher. White testers continued to hear back from agents 92 percent of the time. Black testers heard back only 62 percent of the time.

The testing also uncovered high levels of discrimination against people with Section 8 housing vouchers, regardless of race. Ninety percent of the testers who indicated they were using a voucher faced discriminatory behavior from a rental agent (such as cutting off communication with the tester, not offering a rental application, not setting up an appointment to visit properties).

“The COVID-19 crisis and killing of George Floyd and so many other unarmed Black people has shone a bright light on the negative effects of the structural racism that has always existed in our country. This is a problem right here in our own community,” said Law Professor William Berman, director of Suffolk Law’s testing program.

To learn more, see the August 2020 lesson of Fair Housing Coach, “How to Fulfill Your Obligation to Prevent Race Discrimination,” available to our subscribers here.