By Wayne Jebian
Three of Connecticut’s largest cities are among the Top 20 most segregated when it comes to housing discrimination, with Latinos being the largest affected minority group.
Latinos are discriminated against in the housing market more often than any other group, according to statistics published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Based on data collected by the agency from 2000-2011, 61 percent of housing discrimination complaints involve Latinos.
The evidence that housing discrimination has affected Latinos in Connecticut is the stark segregation that exists from town to town and neighborhood to neighborhood. According to Erin Kemple of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Bridgeport is the sixth most segregated metropolitan area in the country, while Hartford ranks seventh and New Haven stands at 14th.
Although U.S. census data shows the Latino population of Connecticut to be 13.8 percent, “there’s no single place in Connecticut that reflects that kind of diversity,” said Kemple. Housing segregation means that in any given location in Connecticut, the number of Latinos will be either much greater or much less than the state average. “The segregation between whites and Latinos is much, much higher in Connecticut than in Texas, for example.”
In a study conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy, in which 400 Latinos statewide were surveyed by phone, 27.5 percent of respondents answered “yes” to the statement “I have felt discriminated against while seeking housing.” 21.3 percent agreed with the statement “When looking for a loan, I have been discriminated against.”
Housing discrimination was on the agenda at the 2012 Latino Civil Rights Summit held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford recently. A panel of speakers from government agencies charged with fighting landlord and lender bias described what illegal discrimination looks like and what can be done about it.
“A courageous woman named Denise Colon filed a case with us,” recounted Cheryl Sharp, an attorney with the Commission of Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). Sharp described how in this case, the apartment seeker called a landlord about an ad she had seen in the paper. Ms. Colon earned $21,000 per year and had Section 8 government subsidies. “Then the landlord said ‘we don’t take Section 8,’ click, and hung up the phone,” said attorney Sharp.
According to Sharp, this case went all the way to the Connecticut State Supreme Court after Colon, the apartment seeker, called the Bridgeport Fair Housing Office and asked their agents to monitor her follow-up calls. Sharp described how landlords treat subsidized tenants as “undesirables”, one of several techniques landlords use to screen out Latinos who seek housing.
Salomon Chiquiar-Rabinovich, a specialist from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, described his personal history with housing discrimination, saying that when he was a college student looking for off campus housing, prospective landlords would react negatively to his accent. He said that they reacted differently when Anglo friends made the same inquiry.
Today, in cases like this, government investigators will typically send out one agent with a Spanish name and/or accent, and one without, to determine if illegal discrimination is present. “Our testing unit sends out paired testers,” said Tamar Hagler of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. “If they’re not asking white applicants the same questions, we test for that.”
The Justice Department goes after discriminatory mortgage lending in the same way, according to Hagler. When they investigated Countrywide Mortgage in this manner, they found that Latino applicants were far more likely than identically qualified whites to be charged discretionary fees and assigned – loans.
Often times, housing discrimination does not end with the housing search. “We at HUD go after the systemic issues,” said Chiquiar-Rabinovich. “If the garbage is not getting picked up because a large number of people who live in an apartment complex are black or Latino, we will investigate.”
Migdalia Castro, a member of the public, asked if there was anything that people could do if they had strong suspicions that landlords were practicing discrimination, even if the whistle-blower was not the victim. “Even if you are not one of the residents, we would take your case,” responded Chiquiar-Rabinovich.
Chiquiar-Rabinovich said that passing fair housing legislation was one of the toughest fights of the civil rights era. Every time a civil rights bill came before congress, the housing piece would be dropped in order to make it acceptable to legislators whose constituents were hostile to minorities moving into their towns and neighborhoods. According to Chiquiar-Rabinovich, Martin Luther King made very little progress on the issue during his lifetime, and it took Lyndon Johnson exploiting Dr. King’s death to successfully pass fair housing laws in 1968.
Contacts for suspected cases of housing or lending discrimination:
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
Housing Discrimination Tipline: 800-896-7743; firstname.lastname@example.org
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
(855) 411-CFPB (2372)
Español (855) 411-CFPB (2372)
TTY/TDD (855) 729-CFPB (2372)
By Wayne Jebian