2001-07-20 Holland Sentinel Flaws found in city housing practices

Flaws found in city housing practices
Holland Sentinel

Holland still has problems with fair housing practices, a recently conducted study shows. For the third time since 1989, a test of equal housing opportunities among banks and real estate companies in the city of Holland shows discrimination against minorities looking for housing.

The report, commissioned by Holland’s Human Relations Commission and conducted by Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids, showed only two of eight cases where white applicants and black applicants, were treated equally.

“We need some work,” Alberto Serrano, the city’s community human relations coordinator said after the commission’s meeting on Thursday night. “We need to do some work in the community.” His sentiments were echoed by other commission members. “I expected better performance,” Tendo Kasara, chairman elect of the commission, said after the meeting. “That only two of eight (didn’t discriminate)… that was somewhat disappointing.”

What it told me was that we still have some ongoing issues,” city Councilman Mark de Ro, who serves on the commission, said after the meeting. “Ongoing training and education is necessary.” In the report, four out of the eight tests resulted in a significant difference in treatment shown to the white applicant and the black applicant. In two of the tests, “some difference” in treatment was shown and in two of the tests there was no evidence of different treatment.

The commission only had enough funds allocated by the city council to conduct eight tests at seven different businesses, Serrano said more than one test at each business would need to be done to determine a pattern of discrimination.

The Fair Housing Center sent a white applicant and a black applicant to each company with a scripted test. In each test, the black applicant had a higher household income, but all other personal information was the same. Each tester wrote a report without consulting the other and a coordinator evaluated both reports and made a determination about the business’ practices.

Situations were given a “no significant difference,” “some difference and “evidence” of discrimination rankings. “Some difference” was defined as “both the comparison (white) tester and the protected (black) tester received similar treatment but with some differences.” Tests included applying for loans for the purchase for houses, asking about the availability and rate for rental apartments and seeking listing of houses for sale.

“The commission hopes to use the information to alert companies involved in the study to practices that are discriminatory and work with them to offer training to their employees. “We will use this information to raise red flags,” Serrano said. Serrano will take the tests to the businesses in question and ask, “You are not performing to standards. What can we do to ensure it’s not an ongoing practice?” Serrano declined to identify the businesses tested, but said some have already been contacted about test results.

He will ask the companies to look at their fair housing training and possibly add more training; along with possibly hiring an outside comply to run tests on the business in question. De Roo also called for companies to conduct tests on themselves. “They need to audit themselves,” he said.

Serrano noted that many Holland businesses already conduct training in this area, so the issue comes down to putting the training into practice. “The issue here is where’s the breakdown in implementation … the weakness in the links of the chain,” he said. “Sometimes somebody doesn’t do the job they’re supposed to do. It’s far more serious if an organization doesn’t promote fair housing than one individual.”

The report cost the city $5,750 and was the first city sponsored test to look at discrimination faced by blacks. In both 1989 and 1994, the city looked at the treatment of Hispanics. In 1989, test results showed that in 49 percent of the 37 test situations, white renters were given favorable treatment over Hispanic renters in Holland. In 1994, the study showed patterns of discrimination against minorities in 46 percent of the 22 tests.

Kasara said the test results are an opportunity to raise the issue to the community. “It is the right course to put it in front of the whole community,” he said, adding the follow-up with the companies involved is needed including asking them, “How can we help?” The report was forwarded to the City Council for its review at a later date.