The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded Suffolk University Law School's Housing Discrimination Testing Program an additional $149,999 in grant funding to expand its fair housing testing, enforcement, education outreach and policy work.
Suffolk Law has been awarded nearly $425,000 in direct funding and an additional $375,000 through its partner, the Boston Fair Housing Commission, since launching in February 2012.
The program will use the bulk of the new funding to expand its systemic and complaint-based fair housing testing. The new money also will fund a study on the treatment of transgender individuals in the rental market, a working group on discrimination related to state lead paint laws and hiring two new clinical fellows.
“We send testers into the community to make sure people are giving truthful information to everyone in the rental market and not keeping information from certain people who are in protected classes,” said program director William Berman, a clinical professor of law. “This is a wonderful opportunity for students to put skills into practice and to open horizons for students. We are building the next generation of civil rights lawyers.”
Suffolk Law School's Housing Discrimination Testing Program has trained more than 100 fair housing testers—many of them students—who pose as potential renters. Testers contact real estate agents, landlords and property managers about advertised housing. Some of the testers are members of protected classes, for example, they have kids or are disabled. If testers from a protected class are not allowed to view an apartment or are treated differently when they ask for rental information, that could be evidence of discrimination.
“Discrimination is very subtle,” said housing clinic fellow Jamie Langowski. “People can be told: I'll call you back if we find something that fits your needs, and some will never hear back.”
“Ending housing discrimination requires that we support the law of the land and protect the housing rights of individuals and families who would be denied those rights,” said Susan Forward, director of HUD's regional Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “Ensuring and promoting Fair Housing practices lies at the core of HUD's mission, and this grant enables Suffolk University Law School's Housing Discrimination Testing Program to help individuals and families who are denied equal access to housing.”
“We all seek a home. Rental housing discrimination is particularly insidious because people may not even realize they are being denied a place in which to live,” said Suffolk Law School Dean and Professor of Law Camille Nelson. “These new grants allow Suffolk Law and its students to continue this much-needed and highly effective work to combat housing discrimination.”
"Suffolk University Law School's Housing Discrimination Testing Program is vital to helping HUD enforce the Fair Housing Act, by making the public more aware of their fair housing rights and ensuring that housing providers understand their responsibilities under the law," said Barbara Fields, HUD New England Regional Administrator.
Evidence collected through discrimination tests designed and implemented by Suffolk Law School has led to four recent settlements:
- In January 2014, Boston-area housing providers agreed to pay $12,500, attend fair housing training and adopt new policies to resolve allegations that a rental agent violated lead paint laws and discriminated against families with children. Suffolk Law conducted a series of tests after spotting apparently discriminatory ads on Craigslist posted by the rental agent. In one test, the rental agent refused to show a rental unit to a fair housing tester who stated that he had a child under 6 years old, while on the same day the agent showed the same property to another tester who had older children.
- A brokerage firm denied service to a Suffolk tester said to have a disability, and the Attorney General's Office imposed a $2,500 fine, required a written reasonable accommodation policy and filed an Assurance of Discontinuance with Suffolk Superior Court. (September 2013)
- Suffolk sent testers to an apartment building to determine if families with children were being discouraged from renting because of a property manager's unwillingness to test for and remove lead paint. The collected evidence led to a settlement through which the management agency agreed to pay $15,000, obtain training for leasing staff and inspect the property for lead paint. (September 2013)
- A real estate agent's refusal to show an apartment to a Suffolk tester who said a housing voucher would cover part of the rent resulted in a settlement requiring staff to receive fair housing training, put fair housing language in postings and display fair housing posters in all offices. (September 2013)
Suffolk Law's discrimination testing program launched in February 2012, when HUD granted $150,000 to the Boston Fair Housing Commission to expand an existing collaboration with Suffolk Law's clinical program. The initial money allowed for systemic and complaint-based fair housing testing focused on LGBT, disability, source of income and familial status issues as well as complaint-based testing that supports state and local Fair Housing Assistance Programs.
The program was awarded $275,000 from HUD in September 2013 and an additional $236,000 in November 2013 from HUD through the Boston Fair Housing Commission. The $149,999 awarded in February 2014 was part of an earlier grant request that HUD decided to fully fund.