Report: some Pleasanton apartment complexes discriminate
ECHO Housing claims 30 percent in study treat prospective tenants differently based on their race
A new study released by ECHO Housing, a nonprofit housing counseling agency, says 30 percent of Pleasanton apartment complexes that were audited showed some form of discrimination based on race.
In the study, ECHO employed testers, a black female (minority tester) and a white female (majority tester) in each individual case, to judge how they were treated upon visiting an apartment complex as a prospective renter. In all cases, each tester said she was looking for a two-bedroom apartment for her and her spouse. During the evaluations, testers looked for the following issues: refusal to rent or show a unit, different rental terms and conditions, discouragement of renting and different information or treatment.
According to the report, most of the issues recorded fell under the different information or treatment category.
"We found numerous cases where the minority tester was not asked for contact information, i.e. address, phone number or email when the majority tester was. We assume that the agent wanted this information so that she could follow up with the tester," the report states.
Other examples listed in the audit included the minority tester not being offered an application when the majority tester was; the minority tester was shown more expensive apartments or not given the same information about the units available and "steering" a minority to a certain part of the complex than the majority tester.
Arlene Zamora, housing programs coordinator for ECHO Housing, said she personally has experienced the latter form of discrimination.
"I experienced that myself before working here at ECHO Housing," she said. "In the unit that I was living years ago, the minorities were (placed) at the end of the complex and the Caucasians were in the beginning of the complex area."
ECHO conducts an audit annually, but changes the topic each year. Last year, the subject was the treatment of people with disabilities who were requesting some accommodations be made to the apartment complex. This year, ECHO chose to test on race because it's the category in which the housing organization receives the most complaints about. The audit was conducted on 111 properties in Pleasanton (10), Livermore (10), Hayward (15), San Leandro (15), Alameda County (25), Union City (10), Santa Clara County (5), Cupertino (6) and Redwood City, (15). In Pleasanton and Livermore, three in 10 properties showed some form of differential treatment. A total of 32 out of the 111 properties showed less favorable treatment, representing 29 percent.
If a Pleasanton resident has a similar complaint to make about racial or any other type of apartment discrimination, they can call the city's housing department, according to housing specialist Scott Erickson. The city takes calls and refers them to ECHO, which is the primary agency that deals with housing discrimination and treatment issues.
Pleasanton and Livermore both contract with ECHO to provide counseling services in accordance with Fair Housing laws. Pleasanton keeps in contact with ECHO on cases to resolve issues, Erickson said.
"In many cases, there are privacy issues and ECHO won't report back to us the details of a particular case, but sometimes there is additional information exchanged back and forth to hopefully see if a particular issue is resolved," he said.
Zamora said the significance of the study is that testers were able to discover subtle forms of discrimination that a renter wouldn't notice otherwise.
"When we sit down and compare the information that was given to the minority and the information that was given to the majority, then we can see actually a different treatment--different prices, availability," Zamora said. "That's why we need to do these types of tests because you don't see a place that says 'no kids allowed' or 'no African Americans allowed.' They don't put it that way because they know it's against the law.
"Just putting an African American on one side of the complex and a Caucasian in another side of the complex--that's not okay," she added. "(Complexes) have to be neutral and provide all the information available."
With the information from the audit, ECHO works to contact those complexes to given them feedback and encourage them to have employees undergo free training. Each of the owners of the properties in the audit will be contacted by mail and given a report on the performance of their agents, Zamora said. Lawsuits are not the goal of these types of studies, but ECHO does help victims of discrimination pursue cases in some instances.
For more information about the Eden Council for Hope and Opportunity, visit www.echofairhousing.org. ECHO has offices at 3311 Pacific Ave. in Livermore and can be reached at 449-7340.