In a recent test, 82% of rental homes in New Orleans were not available to holders of Housing Choice Vouchers, severely limiting the actual housing choices of program participants. Based on the results of the test and multiple interviews, the study concludes that discrimination against African-Americans and dysfunction in the administration of the New Orleans voucher program are the primary reasons that voucher households are denied access to eligible rental homes.
The testing was done of 100 units selected randomly from local listings. The units had to meet two conditions: the published asking rent needed to be below the voucher program’s threshold of $1,250, and the advertisement could not have a stated preference for or against voucher holders. In each case, the landlord was contacted first by a white tester who did not claim to have a voucher, second by a white tester who did claim to have a voucher, and third by a black tester who also claimed to have a voucher. The testers recorded the results of their inquiries, which were than coded and tabulated.
In 18 cases the landlord accepted the voucher participants without conditions. In seven cases the voucher holders were asked to pay higher fees or meet additional requirements that likely placed the unit out of reach. In the remaining 75% of the cases at least one of the voucher holders was refused. In the majority of cases, both the white and black voucher holders were refused, but in 9% of the cases the white voucher holder was told the unit was available and the black tester was told it was not.
Statements made during the tests and in additional interviews conducted with landlords and others involved in the process revealed racial bias and stereotypes were often behind the refusal to accept vouchers (99% of voucher holders in New Orleans are black). Also important, however, were the bad experiences landlords had had with the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO). Many landlords stated that they did not to participate in the program after experiencing delays in signing contracts and leases and late or lacking payments in previous transactions. The report concludes with a number of recommendations to rectify the situation in New Orleans. Many of these recommendations, such as exploring a regional approach to voucher administration or a public education campaign to address discrimination against voucher holders, are applicable in other jurisdictions and at the federal level.
The report, “Housing Choice in Crisis: An Audit on Discrimination Against Voucher Holders in the Greater New Orleans Rental Housing Market,” was prepared and released by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and is available at http://www.gnofairhousing.org/pdfs/HousingChoiceInCrisis2009.pdf.