Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia developed one of the first programs in the country to test for compliance with housing discrimination laws. The court system and people in various governmental positions have all stated that testing is one of the best ways to determine if a complaint of discrimination is valid or not valid.
What is a Test?
The Council has trained individuals from all walks of life to be housing testers. When we receive a complaint alleging housing discrimination we often call on these individuals to visit the site in question. The testers act like they are homeseekers while visiting the site and then fill out a report detailing their encounter. We then take the reports of the tester visits and compare them for equal or different treatment. When analyzing the results we are looking for both blatant behavior, such as a landlord stating that children are not allowed in the complex, as well as more subtle behavior. For example, in our most recent racial investigations we found many area rental complexes that offered fewer apartments to the minority testers and move-in dates outside of the minority testers move-in dates. Contrary to industry myth, the Council would never and has never filed a complaint based on the minority tester not being offered a cup of coffee while the non-minority tester was.
The Council acts as the objective third-party view to an individuals feelings about an occurrence. We try to determine if a complaint of discrimination is valid or not valid, and we never assume an experience was discriminatory without first conducting tests. For example, the Council received a complaint from a woman who said that she had gone to view an apartment in one of our local townships. She said that when she visited the rental office, the manager was rude to her: the manager refused to show her the apartment for rent, would not give her any information, and was generally mean and nasty. The woman complaining said, "you know, I think this happened because I'm Black." The Council sent out two testers. The African American tester came back and said that the manager was mean and nasty, she would not show her the apartment, and would not give her any information. The Caucasian tester came back and said that the manager was mean and nasty, she would not show her the apartment, and would not give her any information. On reviewing the results, we found the apartment manager to be equally mean and nasty to everyone, regardless of their race! This was an equal opportunity manager. We called back the woman and explained the results of our test and her response was, "I feel so much better." She was relieved that this experience did not happen because of the color of her skin, but simply because the manager of the complex was not a pleasant person.
When the results of the test appear to confirm the complainants feelings the Council will assist them in filing a complaint of housing discrimination using our testing results as further evidence of their experience. Some victims of housing discrimination do not want take the matter this far, but just want to ensure that what happened to them does not happen to others. In such a case, the Council has standing to file complaints based solely on the testing evidence.
What type of testing does the Council do?
- Rental Testing
- Sales Testing
- Testing for compliance with the accessibility guidelines for the disabled in new construction
- Mortgage Testing
- Homeowners Insurance Testing
Does the Council perform investigations or enforcement other than through testing?
Yes. In some circumstances information can be gathered using census data, Home Mortgage Disclosure Data, review of public information at area court houses, and many, many other methods. As we move into the 21st century we had hoped that the problems of discrimination would have been dealt with and the enforcement programs of the Council would no longer be needed. Unfortunately this is not the case. Rather, the forms of discrimination have become more subtle and sophisticated. In the same way, the programs of the Council to investigate possible violations of anti-discrimination laws have had to become equally as creative and sophisticated. The Council works closely with such agencies as the National Fair Housing Alliance, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and fair housing professionals across the country to determine new and creative ways of investigating complaints of housing discrimination.
Do you feel like you may be the victim of housing discrimination? Contact the Council to discuss your experience at (267) 419-8918 ext. 3 or e-mail the FHCSP Test Coordinator Emma Ward.
Would you like to help the Council in its fight to end housing discrimination?