Every year, there are more than four million incidents of housing discrimination that occur in the United States. Yet these incidents are tremendously underreported, particularly within the Latino community. A new NCLR and Equal Rights Center (ERC) report, "Puertas Cerradas: Housing Barriers for Hispanics," takes a closer look at the housing experience of Hispanics in three Southern cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; and San Antonio, Texas. Although the federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on national origin, our investigation reveals that Latinos continue to face adverse or differential treatment when trying to buy or rent a home.
The federal government's failure to pass any kind of meaningful immigration reform has encouraged states and municipalities to act as immigration regulators and craft their own misguided anti-immigrant policies. State laws such as Arizona's infamous SB 1070 and Alabama's even more egregious H.B. 87 -- both of which effectively codify racial profiling -- have stoked a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that affects all Latinos regardless of citizenship status. As a result, all aspects of life have been affected by this increasingly hostile environment, in particular Latino families' equal access to housing.
Using a "matched pair" methodology, Hispanic and White non-Hispanic testers with virtually identical profiles interacted with housing agents in various scenarios. In San Antonio and Atlanta, the ERC conducted 50 phone tests and 25 in-person tests, while in Birmingham, the ERC conducted 75 in-person tests. What we discovered was troubling:
- Latino testers experienced at least one type of adverse, differential treatment in 42 percent of the tests (95 of 225 tests), and two or more types of adverse treatment in 16 percent of the tests (35 tests) when compared to their White counterparts.
- Housing agents were less willing or receptive to schedule an appointment with Hispanic testers than they were with their matched White testers.
- In sales tests, agents provided White testers with lender recommendations or other advantageous financing information that was not provided to their matched Hispanic testers.
- In rental tests, agents quoted higher fees, costs, and/or more extensive application requirements to Hispanic testers than to their matched White testers.
Despite the protections afforded in the Fair Housing Act, discrimination by national origin persists. Puertas Cerradas sheds light on housing discrimination in only three cities, but this type of adverse and differential treatment goes underreported elsewhere. We know that steps that can be taken, however, to mitigate housing discrimination toward the Latino community:
- Increase funding for public awareness campaigns and immigrant-specific outreach on fair housing issues. A well-informed community is essential to ending housing discrimination, but more funding is needed to help Latino-serving organizations develop outreach and awareness campaigns to educate the public about what kind of protections the Fair Housing Act provides.
- Partner with local Latino service-providers that can gather real-time evidence for enforcement in specific high-impact localities. Latino community-based organizations are best equipped to reach their community, but the percentage of Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) fair housing grants to groups who serve Hispanics is a paltry 13 percent. HUD should ensure that funding for, and partnerships with, local Latino-serving organizations covers not only fair housing outreach but also enforcements activities.
- Enforce penalties when fair housing discrimination occurs. HUD and the Department of Justice should exhaust all the tools at their disposal to prosecute fair housing violations, with a "zero tolerance" policy.
- Build coalitions that include both immigration and fair housing advocates. Fair housing groups and immigration advocates should join forces to more effectively combat the anti-immigrant rhetoric that contributes to a hostile environment for all Latinos and engenders obstacles to equal housing opportunities.
Our country needs a more just housing system, one that supports a person's right to live where they choose and also enforces fair housing laws. When all members of the community enjoy fair and equitable access to housing choices, we can create more long-term wealth and, in turn, strengthen all aspects of community life.