HUD: People with Mental Disabilities Face Significant Housing Discrimination

September 20, 2017
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People living with mental illness, and those with intellectual or other developmental disabilities, continue to face significant housing discrimination in the rental housing market, according to a new HUD pilot study.

The pilot study found that when compared to people without mental disabilities, those persons who are living with mental disabilities receive fewer responses to their rental inquiries, are informed of fewer available units, and are less likely to be invited to contact the housing provider. In addition, the study found that they are less likely to be invited to tour an available unit, are more likely to be steered to a different unit than the one advertised, and are treated differently depending on their type of disability.

The study also examined what happens when a person with a mental disability makes a request for a reasonable accommodation, finding that a large percentage of people with mental disabilities were given a negative response to their requests, ranging from outright denials to subtler barriers.

The pilot study was conducted through email and phone testing in nine small and mid-sized urban rental markets that mirror the distribution of the mental and developmental disability population across metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, and with in-person testing in two large rental markets, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Testing was divided equally between mental illness and intellectual developmental disabilities, and a total of more than 1,000 matched pair tests (i.e., pairing and comparing testers with mental disabilities with testers who have no mental disabilities, known as control testers) were administered.

The study has significant importance for the future of paired testing for housing discrimination because it represents the first multicity housing discrimination study to use people with mental disabilities as testers. Research focused on two areas: the prevalence and kinds of discrimination facing people with mental disabilities seeking rental housing in the private market, and effective ways to detect housing discrimination using people with mental disabilities as testers.

“Today’s study spotlights the types of discrimination people with mental disabilities experience when searching for housing,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement. “The findings will not only inform our enforcement efforts, but enable us to identify and remove barriers for those who face housing discrimination. Though nearly 30 years have passed since the Fair Housing Act was expanded to protect individuals with disabilities, we still have work to do to ensure equitable housing opportunities for all.”

The new study, “Rental Housing Discrimination on the Basis of Mental Disabilities: Results of Pilot Testing,” is available at https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/MentalDisabilities-FinalPaper.html.