By Joanne Zuhl
The Portland Housing Bureau says it stands by its Fair Housing Action plan, even as the credibility of the fair housing survey fanned its creation it has been cast into doubt.
“We’re very concerned,” says Margaret Van Vliet, talking about the state’s critical review of the Fair Housing Council of Oregon’s handling of a series of tests in Portland.
“I hope it doesn’t cause anyone to believe that there isn’t actually a problem (with discrimination),” Van Vliet said. “I know that there’s a big problem out there and I don’t want that undermined by this.”
Today, Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries announced it has dismissed the only complaint by the Fair Housing Council of Oregon resulting from last year’s audit of fair housing practices in Portland. BOLI released the decision today after a contentious give and take with FHCO over the testing methodology that ultimately implicated Cascade Community Management in treating potential renters differently based on their national origin.
BOLI, the statewide agency that enforces housing law and civil rights, said the testing in the report “does not rise to a level sufficient for serious consideration of a Commissioner’s complaint.”
In February, the FHCO presented the city with its results of 50 housing tests: Out of those 50 tests, the Fair Housing Council reported finding discrimination based on race or national origin in more than 32. Among the disparities in treatment were African-Americans and Latinos being told higher movie-in costs and higher rent, and additional costs that were not applied to white applicants.
When it was disclosed in April, the audit caused a fury among housing advocates and critics alike. Fish came under attack for not releasing publicly the results and the targets of the audit sooner, and for appearing lax on enforcement against the alleged offenders. The results of the survey were turned over to BOLI for further investigation and to determine if they were substantial enough to proceed with a legal case.
By then, the Oregon Senate Republicans had jumped into the fray with a letter to Attorney General John Kroger and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian calling for more aggressive investigating and prosecuting violations of fair housing laws. Avakian fired back, defending the work of BOLI and FHCO.