A new report shows that landlords in several Chicago neighborhoods do not adhere to fair housing laws, particularly limiting the housing options for African-Americans and individuals with housing choice vouchers — often referred to as Section 8.
The report provides detailed findings from a year of fair housing tests conducted by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, a nonprofit that uses litigation, policy advocacy, and education to fight discrimination. Between April 2017 and April 2018, the group sent fair housing testers to seek apartment rentals in six Chicago communities: Bridgeport, Clearing, Hyde Park, Jefferson Park, Mount Greenwood, and the Near North Side.
In all, 70 tests were conducted. In most cases, the tests featured pairs of testers posing as renters who differed by race (one black and one white) or source of income (one with a housing choice voucher and one without).
“These 70 tests suggest that in the six neighborhoods under consideration, African Americans, Housing Choice Voucher participants, and especially African American Housing Choice Voucher participants continue to face significantly limited housing opportunities in the rental market,” the report states. “Although limited in scope, the results of a year of testing reveals that historic practices of housing discrimination by race and source of income have not become extinct, but rather persist and continue to serve as barriers to housing opportunity to African Americans and low-income households across Chicago.”
The highest ratio of source-of-income discrimination was found in Bridgeport, while the highest ratio of racial discrimination occurred in the Near North Side community, according to the report.
Some testers with housing choice vouchers were flat out denied and told that the apartments they sought didn’t accept vouchers. Some African-American testers were quoted different terms or conditions than their white counterparts. And some black testers were told the apartments they sought were not available but that they could seek apartments in different neighborhoods. The report also indicated that white testers generally received better service from leasing agents than their black counterparts.
The Chicago Human Relations Commission contracted with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to conduct the fair housing tests and to provide training on the city’s fair housing ordinance and other fair housing laws. For decades, fair housing advocates have used testing to identify discrimination, and the practice has roots in Chicago.
Federal law prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race. In Chicago, it is also illegal to discriminate on the basis of source of income. The city’s human relations commission targeted the six community areas included in the tests because those communities have produced the highest numbers of fair housing complaints in recent years, according to the report.
In Chicago, most African-Americans and individuals with housing choice vouchers live in majority-black communities. And for years, black Chicagoans, especially low-income African-Americans, have experienced troubles seeking housing in other communities.
“Segregation is really impacting housing mobility in Chicago, particularly for women of color who are the majority of voucher holders in the city,” said Barbara Barreno-Paschall, a senior staff attorney with the civil rights group.
Barreno-Paschall says the report’s findings are good information for Chicago City Council members and landlords to know. The problem is with enforcement, she says. Not enough people who are turned down as renters file discrimination complaints.
Individuals who believe they have experienced housing discrimination can file complaints with the city’s commision on human relations and also with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.