A report released by the Portland Housing Bureau and the Fair Housing Center of Washington in partnership with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon suggests that people from certain protected classes receive unequal treatment in Portland’s housing market, particularly on the basis of national origin.
The report is the result of City-funded audit testing to identify possible violations of Fair Housing law. The Portland Housing Bureau (PHB) contracted with the Fair Housing Center of Washington (FHCW), in partnership with the Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO), to conduct tests between October 2013 and December 2014.
Of 51 initial tests conducted in the first phase of testing, 19 (37%) showed adverse differential treatment toward testers belonging to a protected class (five on the basis of race, seven based on national origin, four based on familial status, three on the basis of disability). Another eight tests from the first phase were inconclusive.
Follow-up testing has been or is being conducted on the 27 that showed adverse treatment or were inconclusive. To date, one of these cases provides sufficient evidence of discrimination to support referral to the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) for legal action. The most common issue identified was that testers from protected classes were given different information on rental terms and conditions, and unit availability.
“I am deeply troubled by the results of this testing. Everyone should have the same access to housing of their choice and should not be treated differently based on the color of their skin, their national origin, the size of their family, or their disability,” said Housing Commissioner Dan Saltzman.
A consortium made up of the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and the City of Gresham is using these results, as well as newly available data and mapping tools, in its Fair Housing Assessment, a precursor to the region’s Five-Year Consolidated Plan for federal spending priorities. In it, the governments will demonstrate the steps they are taking to further Fair Housing. This includes a study of segregation, disproportionate housing need, disparities in access to community assets and exposure to harmful community factors, complaint outcomes, and Fair Housing awareness.
The report may also reveal some gains. The tests showed fewer instances of differential treatment based on disability, particularly for persons requiring accommodations for service animals. Reasonable accommodations for people experiencing disability has been a strong area of focus in the City’s outreach and education investments.
“We still have work to do,” said PHB Director Traci Manning. “I am encouraged to see improvement in an area where we have made concentrated efforts, though we know people in our community living with a disability still experience discrimination in access to housing. The amount of differential treatment revealed in this report is very concerning, but this gives us areas of focus for next steps, and we are eager to bring our community together to tackle the issues.”