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Qualified Renters Need Not Apply: Race and Voucher Discrimination in the Metro Boston Rental Market

Research conducted from August 2018 to July 2019 revealed significant race and voucher discrimination in the Greater Boston housing market.

July 1, 2020

The results of a major report funded by the Boston Foundation and the Racial Justice Fund, revealed such extreme degrees of race and voucher discrimination in the Greater Boston rental market that it surprised even the researchers. “We expected the numbers to be high, but we didn’t expect to find the degree of discrimination we did,” said Jamie Langowski, Clinical Fellow at the Housing Discrimination Testing Program at Suffolk University Law School, at the webinar on July 1. 

The research team from Suffolk found that landlords and agents are discriminating against Black renters and those with Section 8 housing vouchers, illegally shutting out high numbers of qualified renters. Black testers faced discrimination in 71 percent of the tests.  

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The study found that housing providers, mostly real estate brokers, showed Black testers about half the number of apartments they showed White testers. White testers were told that more units were available, showed more units, offered more incentives to rent and received more positive comments about the units. 

Langowski explained that when agents interacted with Black testers, the incidence of “ghosting,” or cutting off communication, was much higher. White testers heard back from agents 92 percent of the time, while the rate for Black testers was just 62 percent. In addition, testers who had vouchers, regardless of their race, were prevented from viewing apartments at very high rates.  

“This study was conducted over the last two years,” said Orlando Watkins, Vice President for Programs at the Boston Foundation, introducing the webinar. “It shows that the impact of COVID-19 is exacerbated and amplified by preexisting racial and socioeconomic inequities already faced by Black, Latinx, low-income people and other communities of color—all desperately seeking housing stability. It’s just another example of how systemic and structural racism are perpetuated to this very day.  

“It also tells us that legislation and policy is only one component of a journey to change. Municipal, federal and state civil rights laws prohibit housing discrimination based on race and source of income. This study demonstrates that the reality is far from this ideal in the Greater Boston area. Clearly, in addition to policy, change also requires strong measures of accountability and enforcement.”  

  

Speakers included: Jamie Langowski, Clinical Fellow, Suffolk University (Presenter); Judson Woods, Senior Analyst, Analysis Group, Inc. (Presenter); Soni Gupta, Director of Neighborhoods and Housing, The Boston Foundation (Moderator); Stella Adams, a national fair housing activist; William Berman, Clinical Professor of Law, Suffolk Law School; Barbara Chandler, Senior Advisor on Civil Rights and Fair Housing, Metro Housing Boston; Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director, Lawyers for Civil Rights; and Olivia Winslow, Demographics Reporter, Newsday