An undercover investigation of rental properties in wealthy New Orleans neighborhoods this year turned up blatant evidence of racial discrimination, according to the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.
The center released a report Thursday detailing the results of a four-month investigation it conducted in well-off neighborhoods including Lakeview, East Carrollton, the area near Audubon Park and Algiers Point. White and black test subjects posed as prospective renters, asking to visit and fill out rental applications at 50 different properties.
Overall, the report said, black renters faced discrimination in 44 percent of the tests they conducted. It said they either never heard back from landlords, got the runaround from them when they did or ran into more onerous requirements than white counterparts with identical qualifications, including income and rental histories.
Kate Scott, the center’s assistant director, said the results were unsurprising but also deeply relevant, given wide disparities in the average well-being of residents in wealthy neighborhoods versus poor areas of the city. Scott said data from previous surveys suggest that living in certain ZIP codes is a big factor in outcomes such as life expectancy and access to education.
So the “really important finding” of the latest report, she said, “is that nearly half the time, that’s not possible for African-Americans.”
The report includes a number of recommendations for policymakers. It suggests taking steps to incentivize affordable housing and improve the supply of quality rental properties; providing more funding for the city’s Human Relations Commission, which takes discrimination complaints; and imposing tougher penalties on landlords and others who violate the city’s fair housing laws.
The report gives New Orleans credit for having some of the “most progressive” housing laws on the books, but it says violators are getting “little more than a slap on the wrist.”
The center’s investigation found a range of discriminatory practices, some more overt than others.
The properties tested were chosen at random among apartment complexes, multiple-family structures and single-family homes, though none of the landlords or real-estate agents involved are named.
In four cases, black prospective renters never got a call back from landlords they contacted, while their white counterparts did. In another 10 cases, landlords refused to show black renters their properties, stopped responding to inquiries or failed to provide a rental application.
In one case described in the report, a real estate agent refused to meet a black test subject at a rental unit in Lakeview, claiming someone else would be there to let the prospective renter inside. That turned out not to be the case, the report said, and subsequent calls to the agent were never returned. “That same day,” the report continued, the agent “met and showed the white tester the apartment.”
In other cases, white test subjects were offered better terms or faced less scrutiny of their backgrounds. Some landlords “spontaneously reduced application fees, lowered rental and deposit amounts, discounted utility fees or waived the application process entirely for white testers,” the report said.
Other cases illuminated more subtle forms of bias. The report said one black renter was asked repeatedly about whether his salary was enough to cover the rent, though it was identical to that of the white renter. Another was asked whether he owned a gun, a question the white test subject never had to answer.