2001-07-20 Lakeshore Press Study-Race bias found in housing market here

Study: Race bias found in housing market here
Lakeshore Press

Some Holland real estate agents and bank lean officers discriminate against black customers, even when they are more financially qualified than white applicants. That is the finding of a fair housing test funded by the city’s Human Relations Commission. The report was announced Thursday night and will be sent to the City Council for formal review.

The study, which was conducted by the Fair Housing Center of Greater Grand Rapids earlier this year, found evidence of racial bias in four of eight tests conducted and some difference in treatment for black applicants applying for home loans or sales assistance in two other instances. The only case in which no difference in treatment for black and white applicants was found was in tests conducted with apartment rental personnel.“I found it disturbing that in four out of eight tests, black applicants received significantly different treatment,”,” said commission member Tendo Kasara, who is an African-American.

The $5,000 study was conducted by the commission to determine if housing providers are complying with the city’s Fair Housing Ordinances and that Citizens are being given equal housing opportunity. In each test, trained black and white testers from the Fair Housing Center entered into discussions with company agents providing the same information with the exception that income or loan prequalification always was higher for the black applicant.

In all of the tests with banks and real estate agents, black applicants were given significantly less time, less information and less assistance. Evidence of lean officials steering potential white buyers away from houses in certain areas of the city also were found in the test. “I had expected the test would come out more balanced, but six out of eight (tests) show there is definitely a bias toward minorities,” Kasara said.

Both Kasara and city Human Relations Coordinator Alberto Serrano said the bias found in the test could be the action of single individuals rather than the policy of companies. “It sill should be looked at as a red flag that companies are not performing equally for all,” Serrano said.

None of the companies used in the test were identified in the report, but Serrano said the firms were being contacted and made aware of the results of the test. He said other fair housing tests also may be in the offing. Noting that most companies that deal with housing give staff training in the requirements of the federal Fair Housing Act, Serrano said it is important for companies to realize their staffs are not fulfilling their duties under the act and need to take corrective action.

“There is a breakdown in implementation and they have to be aware someone is not doing their job and be vigilant,” he said, “This is an opportunity for them to take corrective action and put in place policies and training to avoid (bias).” Officials of the West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors said their association provides training on the Fair Housing Act and encourages total compliance among its members.

“It is not just morally right, but plain good business,” said Dale Zahn chief executive officer of the 1,000 member association. He said Realtors have a national code of ethics against such practices and have a Professional Standards Committee that can levy fines of up to $2,500, suspensions and expulsion of members who violate the Fair Housing Act. While he said the majority of members comply, bias situations do occur. “We need to be notified when someone feels their rights have been violated. That’s the only way we can act,” Zahn said.