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Originally published Friday, October 21, 2011 at 7:37 PM

Seattle rights-office testing finds bias in rental housing

Seattle's property owners discriminate against African Americans and the disabled, according to a test done by the city's Office of Civil Rights.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes I have been in the rental business for a long time and I have not heard of anyone who... Read more
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quotes I wonder if any of the "discrimination" was due to credit checks? Read more

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Fair-housing tests at 48 randomly selected rentals in Seattle showed evidence of discrimination more than half of the time, according to the city, with leasing agents quoting a higher rent to African Americans and refusing to accommodate service animals for people with disabilities.

In all, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights conducted 57 tests, including nine retests of certain properties. Tests at 26 properties focused on race, using white and African-American testers. Tests at 22 other properties focused on access for people who use a wheelchair or service animal.

Overall, 54 percent of the tests showed problems.

Evidence of race-based discrimination — inconsistencies favoring white testers — was found in 69 percent of the tests.

The testers found managers quoted a higher rent to African Americans, didn't tell African Americans about move-in specials, and used different screening criteria than they did for others, including doing credit or criminal background checks.

In the case of people with disabilities, inconsistencies that create barriers were found 36 percent of the time — including instances of not accommodating service animals, not telling testers about available units, or not providing parking designated for people with disabilities.

Julie Nelson, director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), filed charges in six cases — three for allegations of race discrimination and three for allegations of discriminating against people with disabilities.

According to OCR spokesman Elliott Bronstein, the property owners are negotiating settlements with the city.

The last time the city did this kind of testing was in 2002.

This time it was done as a way to conduct a periodic assessment of current conditions in the rental housing market — to get a sense of people's normal, everyday experiences when they're trying to find a place to live, Bronstein said.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or nbartley@seattletimes.com

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