Fair Housing Testing in Chicago Finds Discrimination Based on Race and Source of Income

A study by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Fair Housing Testing Project for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, tested for source-of-income and racial discrimination in six neighborhoods of Chicago. Out of 70 fair-housing tests, 30 (43%) found source-of-income discrimination, racial discrimination, or both.

Fair housing testing involves trained testers posing as prospective tenants or homebuyers. Tests were conducted in pairs, with one key characteristic, race or source of income, differing between each tester. A portion of the tests assessing both racial and source-of-income discrimination included a third tester. Source-of-income discrimination is defined as discrimination based on a renter’s alternative source of income like a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV). The study identified three main types of discriminatory acts: refusal to rent, differential terms and conditions applied, and residential steering. In cases of source-of-income discrimination, refusal to rent was the most common discriminatory act, while offering differential terms and conditions was most common in cases of racial discrimination. Differential terms and conditions often took the form of offering preferable lease terms and deals to white testers and citing more requirements for African American testers. Additionally, white testers were more likely, than African American testers to report receiving service that went “above and beyond.”

Of all tests for source-of-income discrimination (both with and without a racial component), discrimination was detected 49% of the time. Among tests for racial discrimination (both with and without a voucher component), racial discrimination was identified 27% of the time. Although a small number of tests assessed only source-of-income discrimination, discrimination was detected often enough to be significant, occurring 45% of the time, or in five out of 11 cases. Of the 29 tests manipulating only the race of testers, discrimination was identified in six cases, or 20% of the time. Among the 30 tests of both racial and source-of-income discrimination, at least one form of discrimination occurred 63% of the time, with four cases involving racial discrimination, nine involving source-of-income discrimination, and six involving both. African Americans posing as HCV participants were more likely to experience discrimination than white HCV testers.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits housing discrimination nationally based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, familial status, and disability. Chicago’s Fair Housing Ordinance of 1990 also prohibits discrimination based on alternative sources of income, such as HCVs. Despite these protections, HCV program participants and African Americans, especially African Americans who participate in the HCV program, face discrimination and more limited opportunities in the housing market. Historic practices of housing discrimination persist and serve as barriers to housing opportunity across Chicago. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee recommends further fair housing testing in other cities and neighborhoods to determine the extent of housing discrimination. Complementing the fair housing study, the Committee offered a series of trainings on facilitating discussions about housing discrimination and informing housing providers of the federal, state, and local fair housing laws. The Committee suggests expanding the reach of fair housing training to housing providers and home-seekers to inform them of fair housing laws and their rights and obligations under these laws.

Fair Housing Testing Project for the Chicago Commission on Human Relations Contract is available at: https://bit.ly/2CpI4rG