Recently released findings by the Equal Rights Center, contracted by Fairfax County, observed discernable differences between housing providers’ treatment of White and Black testers in eight of 25 rental tests. The Equal Rights Center observed discernable differences between housing providers’ treatment of White and Black testers in eight of 15 Mortgage Lending tests. And ERC observed discernable differences between real estate agents’ treatment of White and Black testers in six of 14 sales tests.
The testing showed housing providers were more likely to give white testers more detailed information, respond more frequently to their messages, and offer more favorable terms than their matched-pair counterparts, said Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) on June 7, at a regular meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Testers reported certain housing providers lacked the training to provide the same level of treatment to deaf individuals as they do to hearing individuals.
"The numbers reported for the lending and sales markets were more troubling,” Alcorn said. “They clearly show that historical practices of segregating neighborhoods through steering or offering no or worse loans to Black individuals are still very much an issue today."
At the June 7 meeting, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the Joint Board Matter, Review of Enforcement Program for Fair Housing, which was proposed by Alcorn and Rodney Lusk (D-Franconia). The vote was unanimous.
"This should not be happening. This is horrible," said Lusk during the discussion at the board meeting. "It's making my stomach turn to even talk about it."
Lusk said the Board must educate the community, adding he never thought he would be treated differently when going through the housing process. "It is unfortunate this sort of activity is still occurring," he said.
Lusk said they needed to identify what they were doing and how to partner with others. "There might be a role that Fairfax County takes, even separately, to make sure we are protecting our residents," Lusk said.
The board directed the Fairfax Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs to review its enforcement program for fair housing and provide the Board with a plan to enhance its education and training activities that includes an ongoing review of the effectiveness of these activities.
Fairfax County's policy is to provide housing throughout the County without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin; marital or familial status; disability; sexual orientation and gender identity; elderliness; military status; or source of funds, said Alcorn.
In 2019, Fairfax County contracted with the Equal Rights Center (ERC) to provide email, phone, and in-person testing services in the rental, lending, and sales housing markets. During the contract term, June 2019 to March 2021, the Equal Rights Center conducted and analyzed 122 tests in the county based on race, national origin, and disability. The Fairfax County Human Rights Commission recently provided a summary of the results of these tests in the Fair Housing Rental, Sales, Lending Testing Report (https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/humanrights/sites/humanrights/files/assets/documents/pdf/fair%20housing%20testing%20report.pdf).
According to the report, the Equal Rights Center's core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is through civil rights testing, an investigative tool used to gather evidence, usually to compare conduct to legal requirements or a policy. In the fair housing testing, individuals posed as home-seekers and inquired about housing units. The information provided to the tester was recorded on a report form.
HIGHLIGHTS OF SAMPLE DIFFERENCES
Source: Fair Housing Rental, Sales, Lending Testing Report, Fairfax County Human Rights Commission, Fair Housing Program
Equal Rights Center analyzed 25 rental tests based on race, which compared treatment between a Black tester and a White tester. The ERC observed discernable differences between housing providers' treatment of White and Black testers in eight tests. The Leasing Agent:
Quoted the Black tester a higher rent amount than the White tester
Told the White tester the apartment they were viewing was available now, but told the Black tester it was not available until later
Told the Black tester about more fees
Equal Rights Center analyzed 15 lending tests based on race, which compared treatment between a Black tester and a White tester. The ERC observed discernable differences between housing providers' treatment of White and Black testers in eight tests. The Loan Officer:
Only offered the Black tester first-time homebuyer loan products
Gave the White tester a loan quote without asking their income
Only generated a quote for the White tester
Equal Rights Center analyzed 13 rentals based on disability, all of which compared treatment between a Deaf tester using either an IP relay service or a video relay service and a hearing tester using a traditional phone service. The ERC observed discernable differences between housing providers' treatment of Deaf and hearing testers in six tests. The Leasing Agent only:
Questioned the Deaf tester on how they found
out about the complex
Asked the hearing tester for their contact information
Offered the hearing tester a live tour
Told the Deaf tester about more stringent
application requirements than the hearing tester