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Norwalk study finds evidence of housing discrimination

From left, Fair Housing Commissioner Daisy Franklin, Fair Housing Advisory Commission Chairman the Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham and Mayor Harry Rilling speak to the press Thursday morning in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — A $10,000 study of housing discrimination in Norwalk found results that concern Mayor Harry Rilling, who plans further testing.

“We took a proactive approach to make sure that we are on top of this. What we found sends up a red flag that lets us know that we need to do further testing,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in a Thursday morning press conference.

The study was suggested by Norwalk Fair Housing Officer Margaret Suib in 2015, with the $10,000 allocated in the 2016/17 budget. The testing was done early this year, a press release said.

“The study used paired fair housing tests,” the release said. “The housing provider was contacted by two testers, one Black and one White. Each tester presented similar qualifications and requested the same kind of apartment. A test ‘supports allegations’ if the Black tester was treated less favorably than the White tester. A test ‘did not support allegations’ if the testers were treated substantially similarly. A test was ‘inconclusive’ if the Black tester was not treated as favorably at the White tester but the differences  require further investigation.”

The Connecticut Fair Housing Center, a private fair housing program, performed 10 rental tests based on race, the study states, indicating that seven of the 10 properties were found to support suspicions of discrimination. One test was inconclusive and three showed no support for the allegations.

The study states:

  • “The African-American tester being offered a lower floor unit shortly before the White tester was offered a unit on a higher “more desirable” floor;
  • “African-American testers shown one apartment while the White testers were shown as many as four;
  • “White testers offered special discounts not offered to African-American testers;
  • “White testers offered an easier, more simplified application process than the African­American tester;
  • “White testers given brochures and business cards that made it easy for the White tester to contact the rental agents While the African-American testers were given no contact information;
  • “White testers receiving follow up calls and emails while African-American testers were not contacted after the initial tour;
  • “White testers receiving tours of the property including roof-top decks with barbecues and planters for personal gardens that were not shown to African American testers.”

“It’s not just a matter of persons being shown amenities,” Fair Housing Advisory Commission Chairman the Rev. Jeffrey Ingraham said Thursday. “Sometimes it’s the perceived disrespect … Just the perception, an air of almost unwelcomeness.”

Rilling said he’s pledged additional city funding for training sessions property managers and leasing agents of multi-family housing in Norwalk.

“It is incumbent upon us as a community to work together to make sure that we minimize any form of discrimination across the board, in all areas,” Rilling said.

Testing could involve investigations into possible discrimination against people in the Section 8 program, or families, Fair Housing Commissioner Daisy Franklin said.

Each property was visited once and it’s possible that it could have been one employee who was discriminating, Rilling said.

“The properties that we worked with were very cooperative,” Rilling said. “They were surprised and disappointed that we found a problem in their property. Just last night, I guess, an attorney representing four of the properties reached out. They are going to put together a document as to how they are going to work with us, or how they want to help us…. We can’t condemn discrimination strongly enough. We can’t tolerate discrimination in any area of the city.”

Housing discrimination 17-101920171019

11 comments

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell October 20, 2017 at 8:53 am

Absolutely shameful. Perhaps the management conpanies should receive extra scrutiny should they want to develop further properties in Norwalk. How is this still happening in 2017??? Infuriating.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 20, 2017 at 9:33 am

I know of a landlord who has made it a practice not to rent to people of color. At this point, do we need more testing or more enforcement of fair housing rules? We enforce the legal age to purchase alcohol. How hard can this be to enforce with stiff fines and names published in the local press? The first “testing” already demonstrated bias. Expose the landlords and fine them. Barbara, that’s a great idea. Norwalk has been riding a roller coaster of massive apartment complex construction. No more testing. Do what the PDs do to enforce legal age for alcohol purchase. Set up the stings, put the names in the paper and fine the offenders. That is the only way this will stop.

Bob Welsh October 20, 2017 at 10:43 am

This is deeply troubling on so many levels. First, it’s shameful that people of color should have to endure this in 2017. Second, as a white man, were I to look at an apartment, I apparently would have an unearned advantage over people of color who are also looking at the same place. That’s white privilege, it’s seriously wrong, and I hope efforts to address it continue.

The individuals engaging in this behavior may well be doing so unconsciously. It’s possible to pick up racist behaviors without even realizing, and it doesn’t make anyone a “bad person” it just makes them a person who needs to realize the unconscious behavior and stop.

White people of today didn’t originate white privilege, but they do have the power and the responsibility to do something about it. A frank conversation about this and any other discrimination that quietly persists is uncomfortable but necessary.

Bryan Meek October 20, 2017 at 11:06 am

While this doesn’t look good, there is no statistical significance here by definition. A sample size of 10 on a population of 10,000 (?) apartments. The study cost $10,000 for 10 tests? $1000 a test? Another shiny example of government inefficiency. Did the study include the 100s of illegal apartments? Like others said, it happens. So set up a sting and enforce instead of wasting more money on studies.

Laoise King October 20, 2017 at 2:07 pm

Donna and Bryan: just want to clarify a term of art in the Fair Housing field. “Testing” is basically a “sting operation.” It is not a study, it is the act of going out and testing compliance. On this first round, due to the limited sample size and first go at this, the property owners and managers were given the opportunity to voluntarily engage in remediation efforts. They have agreed to do so. When the Mayor and FHAC recommend further testing they mean random spot checks with the accompanying legal consequences for those violating Fair Housing laws.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 20, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Thank you Laoise for explaining that this was a sting operation although I wish I knew who the guilty parties were.

Margaret K. Suib, Esq., Norwalk Fair Housing Officer October 23, 2017 at 12:20 pm

Fair Housing Testing of this type, as Ms. King described, involves sending similarly qualified prospective tenants to a property to inquire about renting the same kind of apartment (a one-bedroom, for example). Tests for some things are done over the phone. Testers undergo extensive training before they become testers. They work off a script, so that everything about the testers is similar (income, credit score, rental history, family size, etc.), except whatever quality (known as protected classification) is being tested.

The testers then record their experiences in detail. The tester usually doesn’t know what they are testing for, and whether they were treated similarly or dissimilarly from the other tester. A testing coordinator then reviews the testing notes or recordings to see if the there is evidence of disparate treatment or not.

In this case, the one dissimilar quality of the testers was race/color: one tester was White, one tester was Black.

It is important to note that in NOT ONE CASE was the Black tester treated better than the White tester, and the list of differences in treatment in the report and in this article was only a sample, not all of the differences.

As to a statistical sample, this is not that kind of test. Just as when you test liquor stores for selling to under-aged minors, the point is to see what happens at this one store at this one time (and then fines, arrest and/or revocation of the liquor license follows if the store sells to a minor, for example). Here, the question was, what’s happening at this (these) apartment complex(es)? There is no statistical component in these kinds of tests.

Also, to set the record straight, while I, as Fair Housing Officer, on behalf of and in concert with the Fair Housing Advisory Commission, did ask the City for funding in 2015, we asked because of a written commitment by the Redevelopment Agency on behalf of the City of Norwalk to HUD, saying that the FHO, working with the Conn. Fair Housing Center, would run a testing program in Norwalk and surrounding communities. Clearly, a full, area-wide testing program would have cost much more than the $10,000 we were granted in FY 2016/17. But reality is, one must make things work as best one can with the funding provided.

Thus, in collaboration with the Conn. Fair Housing Center, we developed a pilot program where we tested 10 properties for White/Black disparities in treatment. Given the results, it was clearly not a waste of money. Money is only wasted, in my opinion, if change/improvement is not thereafter effectuated.

The test results make it clear that the properties tested (8 out of 10) need more/better training, and we have recommended Fair Housing training and Implicit Bias training (as approved by the Fair Housing Office, to make sure it is of the highest quality), along with review of all policies, practices and procedures and incorporation of “best practices” so that employees dealing with the public always treat people making inquiry about apartments, or tenants asking for services (repairs, for example) with the same processes and respect (if you offer someone refreshments when the come in, make sure you offer them to all who come in). Different employees need to operate the same way — it is not a defense to say “oh, that was employee A and the other person saw employee B.” Employees A and B should be doing their jobs the same way.

The treatment of people should be essentially identical. You cannot call it happenstance or coincidence when the White person is made to feel more “wanted” and “welcome” than (in this case) the Black person each time.

Testing can also test for disparities in treatment based upon people with and without housing subsidies (like Section 8), families with children, people with disabilities, based upon age, marital status, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or ancestry.

In the last week alone, I received individual complaints alleging housing discrimination based upon religion, national origin, Section 8 and disability. Housing discrimination is a real problem, not just in Norwalk but across the United States.

Housing providers should anticipate future testing for race/color and other qualities listed above which the law protects from illegal housing discrimination, and should anticipate, as commenters above have indicated, that litigation will ensue if evidence of housing discrimination is found.

Finally, Norwalk residents should contact me, at (203) 854-7820 or [email protected] if they believe they have experienced housing discrimination or if they have questions regarding housing discrimination. Housing providers and real estate agents are welcome to make inquiry (and often do). I encourage everyone, not just renters, to take advantage of the Fair Housing Office when you have a question. Often, housing discrimination claims can be avoided by just finding out what the law expects of landlords, real estate agents, owners, property managers, etc.

I do investigate claims of housing discrimination and those instances of apparent housing discrimination can and often do result in litigation against the offending housing provider.

For any landlords/housing providers interested, we are conducting landlord training on Wednesday evening, October 25, 2017 at Norwalk City Hall Council Chambers (3rd fl), beginning at 7pm. We will cover landlord/tenant laws and Fair Housing law. All are welcome to join us!

Bryan Meek October 23, 2017 at 3:19 pm

From the FHA side, what is being done about illegal apartments? I would think landlords of illegal apartments might be more inclined to take advantage of renters of certain backgrounds. Wouldn’t that also be discrimination? Does FHA take any action when complaints are filed from illegal apartments?

Margaret K. Suib, Esq., Norwalk Fair Housing Officer October 24, 2017 at 3:43 pm

Thanks Bryan Meek. Yes, if a tenant of any apartment (illegal or legal) is being treated in a discriminatory fashion (for example, a landlord feels he can harass, or cheat, an immigrant thinking that s/he will be afraid to complain), such discriminatory treatment based upon (in my example) national origin would be a cognizable claim under federal and state Fair Housing laws.

Bryan Meek October 24, 2017 at 4:43 pm

Is the matter referred to our local Code Enforcement or Assessors office? These illegal apartments are consuming resources without paying appropriate taxes. It needs to end if we are going to be able to sustain the level of government services that our citizens need. We all have a part in this to play fairly and by the rules. It has to go both ways.

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