Racial Discrimination Can Yield Differential Treatment among Potential Renters with Criminal Records

Racial Discrimination Can Yield Differential Treatment among Potential Renters with Criminal Records
Kate Scott, Camille Brown, Brian McKenzie, Susie McClannahan
Equal Rights Center
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Housing providers treat black women with criminal histories differently than they treat their white counterparts with similar criminal backgrounds, according to Kate Scott and her colleagues at the Equal Rights Center (ERC). Using paired white and black female testers who posed as potential tenants for units in large multifamily buildings in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia, the ERC conducted 60 matched-paired tests. Each tester disclosed a similar criminal history (offenses that would not affect the tester’s ability to be good tenants) and professional background when interacting with personnel from the building management companies. But each tester’s race was visually and linguistically discernable. The researchers measured differential treatment by whether the leasing agent provided different information or quality of service to testers, whether the agent reacted differently to the disclosure of the testers’ criminal records, or if the agent speculated on the impact of testers’ criminal histories on the success of their application. While gathering information on local housing providers’ screening processes and procedures for applicants with criminal records, the authors found differences in treatment based on race. The ERC provides policy recommendations to achieve Fair Housing Act compliance in both regards.

Key findings

  • Housing providers exhibited more favorable treatment for the white female tester than the black female tester in 47 percent of the tests conducted.
  • The black tester was only favored in 11 percent of the tests, while 42 percent of tests revealed no differential treatment.
  • Twenty-eight percent of the screening policies for criminal records used by local housing providers may illegally cause a disparate impact based on race.
  • Local housing providers should evaluate, revise, and increase the transparency of their criminal-record screening processes.