Friday, August 15, 2003

Hispanic renters treated poorly


Testers find bias in half of contacts

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hispanic testers posing as apartment seekers in Greater Cincinnati received worse treatment from landlords than white testers, according to a report released Thursday by Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).

"The numbers show that if you are Hispanic, you have a very hard time even getting an appointment to see an apartment," said Karla Irvine, executive director of HOME. "That's deplorable."

HOME sent white and Hispanic testers to 43 apartment complexes in more than two dozen communities in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties. Northern Kentucky was not included. The agency also had testers randomly place phone calls to another 93 apartment complexes requesting appointments to view apartments.

Hispanic testers who inquired about renting an apartment in person were treated differently than whites on 51 percent of their visits. Only about 40 percent of Hispanic testers who called for an appointment to view an apartment for rent were actually granted one.

The report, which was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the first of its kind in Cincinnati to focus solely on Hispanics. The testing was conducted between December 2001 and May 2003.

Among findings of the audit:

• A white tester who went to an apartment complex in Batavia was shown three more apartments than a Hispanic tester. The white tester was also offered one rent-free month, while the Hispanic tester was not.

• A Cincinnati landlord told a Hispanic tester that "no apartments would be available for a month" when he inquired about a rental. When a white tester asked the same question, the landlord told him an apartment would be vacant that weekend and scheduled an appointment to view it the following Monday.

• In Mount Lookout, a property owner put off a Hispanic tester repeatedly by telling him that the neighborhood was "all young professionals and college grads."

• A number of Hispanic testers had difficulty scheduling appointments with landlords, some of whom told them they were "too busy" to meet with them. White testers scheduled appointments with no problems. Several landlords did not return Hispanic testers' phone calls requesting an appointment to view an apartment.

• In Hyde Park, a Hispanic tester was charged a $25 application fee while a white tester going for the same apartment was not. In another test, the rental manager attempted to steer a white applicant toward a more expensive property.

HOME officials declined to name the apartment complexes that were investigated. They said the agency plans to retest those complexes where discrimination was found and possibly file complaints with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, HUD or sue the property owners.

Hispanics and Latinos, whose influx here began in the 1990s, account for roughly 1 percent of Greater Cincinnati's population.

There are 22,488 Hispanics or Latinos in a Cincinnati metropolitan area of nearly 2 million people, according to census data. From 1990 to 2000, the Hispanic population increased 225 percent in Butler County, 212 percent in Warren County, 115 percent in Clermont County and 83 percent in Hamilton County.

"It is in everyone's best interest to treat Hispanics well while the numbers are still low, rather than deal with the negative impact 30 to 40 years from now," said Michael Flynn, director of Su Casa Hispanic Ministry Center in Carthage. "For many Hispanics, leaving is not an option because the jobs are here."

Irvine said housing discrimination against Hispanics is "very high and underreported" throughout the region. One reason, she said, could be that some Hispanics who don't speak English have trouble articulating their experiences to authorities. Another likely factor is that Hispanics who might be here illegally fear that landlords may turn them over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) if they complain.

"Most of the Hispanics I've talked to have a very keen sense of justice," Irvine said. "But many don't know how to handle these situations when they come up."

Charles Tassell, director of government affairs for the Apartment Association of Greater Cincinnati, said he was stunned by the results of the audit. Tassell said the apartment association, which represents about 600 management companies in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, has been working closely with HOME the past two years to solve these types of problems.

The two agencies forged a partnership called the Fair Housing Mediation Service, which is a process designed to settle discrimination disputes. Tassell said he thought the program was helping to reduce the number of housing discrimination complaints in the region.

"I find those numbers sad and disturbing," Tassell said. "I'd like to know more about where the cases came from and if citizens are having as much trouble as professional testers."

HOME received 363 complaints of discrimination last year - 15 percent of which were from Hispanics.

In 1999, HOME helped three Hispanics sue a Springfield Township housing company, its management and rental agencies for violating the federal Fair Housing Act. The companies settled the lawsuit by agreeing to advertise future apartment availability in the Spanish Journal newspaper and report all attempts to rent apartments or houses to HOME.

Gilberto Esparza, director of the Hispanic Resource Center in Covington, said there are two types of Hispanic immigrants in Greater Cincinnati: those who speak English and those who don't. The latter, he said, are the ones most susceptible to discrimination.

As a result of discrimination, many Hispanic immigrants end up paying as much as $600 a month rent for rundown apartments in impoverished areas, Esparza said.

Catalina Landivar-Simon, a native of Ecuador who has lived in Oakley for seven years, said she counts herself among the lucky immigrants who have had positive relationships with their landlords.

"Hispanics are just like everyone else," she said. "We are just looking to have a nice decent place to live."

How the audit was conducted

The HOME audit used a technique called "paired testing" to measure the level of housing discrimination.

Paired testing matches two individuals - one white and one Hispanic - and assigns them identical characteristics such as marital status, income, credit history and size of family.

They respond to the same advertisement for rentals within days, hours and sometimes minutes of one another and independently record their experiences. HOME then compares those experiences to determine if a tester received disparate treatment.

All the Hispanic testers used by HOME were legal immigrants who underwent thorough background checks and were bilingual enough to negotiate an apartment rental.

Testers randomly visited 43 middle-income apartment complexes and telephoned another 93 to request appointments to view rental properties. All the encounters between white and Hispanic testers and the landlord or apartment managers were tape-recorded.

Areas tested by HOME:

Anderson/Cherry Grove, Batavia, Bethel, Cincinnati (downtown), Deer Park, Delhi, Franklin, Hamilton, Hyde Park, Landen, Lebanon, Loveland, Madeira, Mason, Middletown, Milford, Mount Lookout/Columbia Tusculum, Mount Washington, Sayler Park, Sharonville, Springboro, Springdale, Trenton, West Chester, White Oak, Williamsburg and Wyoming.

Filing a complaint

To file a complaint or for more information, contact:

Housing Opportunities Made Equal: 721-4663

Cincinnati NAACP: 281-1900

Cincinnati Department of Housing and Urban Development: 684-3451

E-mail kaldridge@enquirer.com




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