Fish pledges enforcement, education against housing discrimination

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

An audit of the city’s fair housing practices completed nearly four months ago has recently set tongues wagging over what the city is going to do with the high rate of reported discrimination.

The audit by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon found that 32 out of 50 test interviews with landlords revealed different treatment for test applicants who were African-American or Latino. The audit was part of the city’s work to prepare its Analysis of Impediments report mandated by the federal government. It was the first such audit the city has commissioned.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish

“When we got the results we were alarmed by the high incidence of discrimination, particularly among people of color,” said City Commissioner Nick Fish, who heads up the Portland Housing Bureau. Fish said he and Portland Housing Bureau Executive Director Margaret Van Vliet are taking a dual track approach to rectify the situation, which was first published by The Oregonian.

“We’re going to be working with landlords and their associations and the advocacy community to do outreach and education,” Fish said. “At the same time, we’re going to do some targeted enforcement of the law.”
Fish said that since the city received the audit back in February, he has been talking with various parties, including the Oregon Law Center and Attorney General John Kroger, about developing an approach to addressing the disparities. The violations exposed in the Fair Housing Council’s audit were to state and federal laws, and enforcement is triggered through an essentially complaint driven process, according to Fish. Fair housing complaints are not processed through the city, he said.

However, Fish said he is talking with the attorney general about partnering with other forces, either through administrative or with a lawsuit, to push enforcement on some egregious violators.

“There will be something tangible we can point to,” Fish said.

The audit comprised 50 tests – 25 test tenants based in race (African-American renters with white), and 25 based on national origin (Latino compared to white). Of the race tests, 15 showed different treatment. Of the national origin tests, 17 showed different treatment and 6 were inconclusive. Among the disparities in treatment were African-Americans and Latinos being quoted higher movie-in costs and higher rent, and additional costs that were not applied to white applicants.

Fish’s father, Rep. Hamilton Fish, was a champion of the Fair Housing Act of 1988, which expanded protections to families with children and people with disabilities. It also expanded options for redress on grievances through private means.

One response to “Fish pledges enforcement, education against housing discrimination

  1. Pingback: Senate Republicans send letter to Attorney General, Avakian on Fair Housing | For those who can’t afford free speech

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