By Joanne Zuhl
Portland Housing Commissioner Nick Fish’s office has released the locations cited in a recent fair housing audit as testing positive for racial housing discrimination.
The announcement comes following a spate of reports on a survey that 32 out of 50 fair housing tests on Portland rental units showed evidence of discrimination against race and national origin. The survey was commissioned by Nick Fish’s office and conducted by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.
“Today we are releasing the names of the landlords where there is a positive test,” Fish said. “We have previously notified the landlords that they were subject to an audit, and there was a positive test. Landlords have been notified.”
Fish said that next week his office will be forwarding all the information on the Fair Housing audit to the civil rights division of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, the lead state agency for processing HUD fair housing complaints, for them to initiate enforcement action.
“I made a commitment to our community,” Fish said. “First I expressed outrage at the results. Second, I said that we would pursue a comprehensive action plan that would include enforcement of the law. We are taking aggressive steps to hold landlords accountable for alleged violations of our fair housing law. In the weeks ahead, I will be announcing a bold plan to address discrimination in housing in our community. I will be the first housing commissioner who has framed housing discrimination as a bureau priority, and we intend to take a number of very strong steps to end bias in rental housing.”
Fish would not go into details on the plan, saying that he preferred to release it as a complete package. “It will include many of the suggestions from key community stakeholders who have been working on this issue for about a year.” Fish said he expects to announce the plan around the week of June 6.
“We anticipate this will lead to enforcement actions against certain landlords, but this is going to be a multi-year struggle. There will be further testing. There will be changes in the law, and there will be other steps to take that we will not tolerate rental discrimination in rental housing.”
Among those companies noted in the report is Tigard-based Regency Management Inc., which has two locations on the list of discriminatory sites. It includes Nob Hill Apartments in Northwest Irving, and Terwilliger Terrace on Southwest Barbour. In both cases, the African-American testers were told move-in costs ranging between $1,400 and $2,100, compared to a Caucasian tester who was told move-in costs would be between $720 and $740.
However, Regency Management Inc. president John Winquist said managers are instructed not to give move-in costs because there are many variables that can determine the price, including the results of credit and background checks. Those checks are done by an independent company that is not informed of a person’s race or national origin when they make a recommendation on the security deposit, Winquist said.
“That’s an international place,” Winquist said, talking about Nob Hill Apartments. “We have students from all over the world.”
Nob Hill resident manager Daphne Koa, herself originally from Taiwan, said she normally tells people the security deposit could be one month to two months rent depend on the screening report. Additional costs could also include prorated rent depending on when in a month a person moves in.
Dennis Steinman is a leading attorney on fair housing issues in Oregon, and also represents the Fair Housing Council. Steinman says that regardless of whether the discrimination is based in ignorance or racism, it is considered intentional. “Each of us as citizens we are presumed to know the law. We are presumed to know that you cannot have different standards for people of color vs people who are white,” Steinman said. “Ignorance is not a defense.”
Cashauna Hill is the fair housing staff attorney for the Oregon Law Center and a member of the city’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Committee.
When the Fair Housing Council’s audit returned with a 67 percent rate of detected discrimination, many were surprised by the high numbers.
“I was not,” Hill said. “Folks who are engaged and involved in this work, on some level, in various forms, we’ve heard these stories. So the experiences that I’ve heard shared certainly line up with these numbers, unfortunately.”
Hill says the most common complaint the Oregon Law Center receives involves disability discrimination and a failure to accommodate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the bulk of discrimination that is occurring. It simply is one of the easiest violations for a tenant or potential renter to detect, Hill says. Whereas in cases of discrimination based on race or national origin, the victim doesn’t have the benefit of comparing their experience to someone else.
Hill says the report, now that the information has come to light, will be good for Portland.
“I personally think that any time insidious discrimination comes to light, that is a good thing. Also, any time truth is spoken to the experience of marginalized people, any time people experiences with discrimination are brought to light and their stories are validated, I think that is a good thing.”
“In doing this work with the Oregon Law Center and Legal Aid, we work with low income individuals, and that is a marginalized group in society and many times we deal with clients who have just been made to feel like no one is going to listen to them or no one is going to believe them. Often with our clientele their perspective has been delegitimized for years, and I think anytime that the stories that they have to tell are validated and shown to be true and backed up with data, I think that’s a good thing.”