New report reveals pervasive discrimination in housing voucher program

April 1, 2014

(WBEZ/Natalie Moore)
Sign for an apartment that takes a housing choice voucher.

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law spent two years investigating discrimination in the subsidized housing market and found rampant racial discrimination.

Subsidized housing vouchers, commonly referred to as Section 8, allow families to rent in the private market. A new report outlines the discrimination.

To assess fair housing practices, trained investigators posing as potential tenants inquire about availability, terms and conditions to assess compliance. White and black testers, with comparable backgrounds, tried to rent from landlords.

Landlords already participating in the voucher program discriminated against tenants based on race 33 percent of the time, most commonly by steering them to other buildings or neighborhoods. This also happened based on disabilities 44 percent of the time and against families with children 25 percent of the time.

Landlords in opportunity areas - places with low poverty - who were not participating in the Chicago Housing Authority’s voucher program discriminated against white testers with vouchers 55 percent of the time. In 39 percent of the tests, landlords directly refused to rent to them. And a little more than half of the landlords who told white testers that they accepted vouchers discriminated against African American testers who said they had vouchers. Opportunity areas are an important tool to break up segregation in the housing market; voucher holders tend to be clustered in low-income, segregated black communities.

“Race is still a pressing concern within the city of Chicago and within our region. Even though this happened specifically within Chicago, it’s probably not a surprise to any of us that it’s probably the reality going even beyond that scope,” said Morgan Davis, executive director of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance.

The study was conducted for the CHA. In a statement, the agency said it takes allegations of fair housing violations very seriously and “educates owners, property managers and participants to ensure that federal, state and local fair housing laws are adhered upon. CHA also assists the Chicago Commission on Human Relations in its investigations of potential housing discrimination cases and/or fair housing violations.”

is a WBEZ reporter. nmoore@wbez.org Follow Natalie on Google+,  Twitter