Suffolk Law's Housing Discrimination Testing Program Receives $50,000 Grant

Boston Foundation/Hyams Foundation Racial Justice Fund supports equal opportunity

Working against housing discrimination

The Boston Foundation and the Hyams Foundation are supporting Suffolk University Law School’s fair-housing efforts with a joint $50,000 grant to the Housing Discrimination Testing Program, which collects data that demonstrate how people are being treated – or mistreated – in the housing market.

Rigorously applied testing examining the levels of discrimination in the Greater Boston housing market not only benefits housing seekers, but also those in the industry, who get a clearer picture of where they need to improve.

The program’s tests are designed to mimic real apartment-search interactions. They have shown that testers who introduce themselves as having young children, mention their public assistance housing voucher, present as transgender or have a visible disability are experiencing discrimination. They are less likely to be shown available rental properties and less likely to be told about potential discounts or amenities.

Equal justice and opportunity

The grant comes from the Racial Justice Fund, a partnership between the Boston Foundation and the Hyams Foundation. The Suffolk Law Housing Discrimination Testing Program aligns with the funders’ shared mission of fostering conditions in which justice and opportunity are extended to everyone.

“The Housing Discrimination Testing Program plays an important role in uncovering and addressing issues of conscious and unconscious forms of discrimination in the housing market,” said Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. “The program provides powerful tools to educate both housing seekers and the general public about some of the most pernicious forms of discrimination that prevent us from achieving housing equity in Greater Boston. We are pleased to support the effort.”

Since its launch in 2012, Suffolk’s program has provided important clinical experience to Suffolk Law students and trained more than 325 fair housing testers, who pose as potential renters. Those testers have conducted more than 500 housing discrimination tests.

Discrimination persists

A Suffolk Law School March 2017 study of transgender and gender nonconforming housing seekers drew national media attention. The transgender study found that transgender people were more likely to be quoted a higher rental price, shown fewer apartment amenities such as storage or laundry, and less apt to be offered a financial incentive to rent when responding to apartment ads in Greater Boston. Such treatment is illegal under Massachusetts law.

The study’s findings will be published in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism.

“For those who may think of housing discrimination as a problem of a different era, the facts on the ground tell us that’s not so. Grants like the one provided jointly by the Boston Foundation and Hyams Foundation allow us to strengthen our role as a center for fair housing activities and allow our students to contribute to the elimination of housing discrimination,” said Suffolk Law School Dean Andrew Perlman.

Students and community benefit

“The resources from the Boston Foundation offer a valuable service to our community because they enable us to gather data about what is actually happening in the rental market. Knowing that information can help individuals as they search for housing and help decision makers make informed policies that can better serve us all.” said Clinical Professor of Law William Berman, who directs the Suffolk Law program.

The program was established with grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has continued to invest in the Housing Discrimination Testing Program in subsequent funding cycles.

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