Landlords and agents are illegally discriminating against Black renters and those with Section 8 Housing vouchers in the Greater Boston area, according to a new study from researchers at Suffolk University Law School.
The study, which started in August 2018 and finished last July, concluded that real estate brokers showed Black participants about half the number of units they showed white testers. Black participants faced discrimination — such as not being able to make viewing appointments or not being offered rental applications — more than 70 percent of the time. While white participants heard back from agents 92 percent of the time, Black participants only heard back 62 percent of the time.
The study — in which 200 participants, or testers, were trained to pose as interested renters — also found that agents were discriminating against people with Section 8 housing vouchers, regardless of their race.
In a press conference hosted by the Boston Foundation, which helped to fund the study, experts spoke on the study's implications. William Berman, a clinical professor of law at Suffolk University Law School, said the study makes clear that people of color and those with vouchers are hurting.
"We have a big problem in our rental market that needs to be fixed," he said. "Our government has played a role in causing it and causing segregation based on policies such as redlining and offering loans to white individuals and excluding minorities so that minorities were not able to build the same wealth."
Berman said the study provides more transparency to encourage data-driven policy decisions, but he said the culture needs to change and there needs to be more enforcement of laws designed to protect against discrimination in housing.
Barbara Chandler, senior advisor on civil rights and fair housing at Metro Housing Boston, said she didn't find the study's results surprising, and housing authorities need to do more to help.
"Housing authorities have to move beyond just being voucher providers, service providers, we have to move into a more advocacy approach," she said. "We have to break down the walls we have with advocacy organizations, we have to break down the walls we have with government enforcement agencies. And we have to come up with more comprehensive approaches to the voucher delivery system and all those other discriminatory forces that are tied to that, like racism. Otherwise, it's just one frustrating case after the other."
For Stella Adams, a fair housing activist, the real issue isn't about a policy change.
"What we need is enforcement of exisiting policies, enforcement of existing laws," she said.