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Audit uncovers discrimination against disabled in Newton housing May 3, 2007

Posted by C.A.R.D in audit, Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Committee for People with Disabilities, Disability Law Center, Disabled, Discriminate, Discrimination, discrimination against disabled, Discrimination against people with disabilities, discrimination in housing, housing discrimination, minority group, Murphy, Newton housing, The Newton Fair Housing Task Force.

The woman called a real estate agent looking to rent an apartment, and indicated that she uses a wheelchair. Despite promising to call her back about prospects, the agent never did.

Another person without a disability called the same agent and was shown an apartment.

A man who is blind called an agent about renting a unit in a three-family, owner-occupied building. The agent asked if the man had pets, and he acknowledged using a guide dog. The agent said the owner lived below the available apartment, and the guide dog “would drive her crazy.” The man did not get the apartment.

Both agents appear to have violated the law. In the first instance, the agent failed to treat both apartment seekers equally . In the second, the no-pet policy should have been waived to accommodate a guide dog.

The apartment seekers were “testers,” checking whether real estate agents and others involved in providing housing discriminate against people with disabilities.

During a seven-month audit in Newton last year, 52 tests were conducted with real estate agents, landlords, and subsidized housing providers. Evidence of discrimination was found in 48 percent of the tests.

Newton is the first community in the state to hold such an audit.

“It’s breaking new ground,” said Thomas Murphy , senior attorney at the Disability Law Center in Boston, which Newton hired to conduct the audit using a $98,000 federal grant.

Now the city is using the results to train its own housing providers and those in neighboring communities. City officials are set to unveil the audit’s findings and discuss discrimination law from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Newton Free Library.

“The brokers we’ve contacted want to be cooperative,” said Mayor David B. Cohen. “I think we all share a common interest in making Newton as diverse a community as possible.”

The testers included an individual with a mobility impairment, an individual who uses a wheelchair, one who is blind, one who is deaf, one with mental illness, and one with a developmental disability.

The testers actually had the disabilities but did not use their real names.

In most of the tests, a person serving as a control also contacted the housing provider. The controls were similar in gender and age to the testers, and were looking for the same kind of housing and willing to pay the same amount. However, the testers reported having slightly higher incomes and slightly better credit reports than the controls.

Tests were conducted in person and over the phone.

The report did not disclose the names of the testers, who may be conducting similar surveys elsewhere. It did not name the real estate agents or landlords, either.

Discrimination was found in tests involving properties for sale 62 percent of the time and in tests involving the rental of private, non subsidized housing 54 percent of the time.

The discrimination discovered during the audit involved differential treatment, failure to provide reasonable accommodation, or failure to allow reasonable modification of a unit, or some combination.

No discrimination was found in tests involving subsidized housing.

Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities.

In 1990 , Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which expanded protections provided in an earlier law. The US Supreme Court has upheld the law. State law has similar restrictions.

While the community of individuals with disabilities is “the largest minority group in the country,” according to the audit report, “few Americans know or understand how severe and pervasive discrimination towards this population is.”

Murphy called real estate agents “the first line of defense” against discrimination in housing.

“Real estate agents have an obligation to make sure they’re serving their clients who have disabilities in a way which is fair and effective and gives them an equal opportunity to find housing,” Murphy said.

The law also applies to landlords, building owners, and operators of subsidized housing.

The Newton Fair Housing Task Force, the Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, and the Disability Law Center will conduct seminars on the issue for realtors and others, according to Trisha Guditz , the city’s housing development coordinator.

This is the second fair housing audit the city has undertaken. A similar audit in 2005 found discrimination in housing for legally protected classes of race, familial status, source of income, and national origin.

Some of the 12 members of a regional housing consortium to which Newton belongs are also conducting seminars on housing discrimination. It includes Framingham, Lincoln, Natick, Sudbury, Waltham, and Watertown.

CARD {Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination} Source: boston.com

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