When I worked in retail in college (a period in my life that various psychiatric professionals have tried to help me erase), we were always warned about the “secret shopper” — someone hired by the company who would act like a troublesome customer in order to grade our performance.
But there are other kinds of secret shoppers, too. They’re checking for discrimination, and they say they’ve found it in Virginia.
The folks at Housing Opportunities Made Equal conducted a “fair housing audit”; they sent people with “similar profiles” (age, income, marital status) to the same rental homes and documented the treatment they received.
In two-thirds of the visits — 66 percent — HOME says that white testers were offered lower rent, lower security deposits, lower fees, and shown other available units. Black testers were more likely to be asked for identification to view units, and white testers were more likely to receive follow-up calls. (To be fair, in six percent of tests, black testers got favorable treatment.)
HOME doesn’t say how many of these property managers were REALTORS® — I’d like to think the number is somewhere between zero and, well, zero. Heck, in this day and age you’d think that anyone acting in a professional capacity (that is, not Joe Schmoe renting his house) would at least know the law even if they don’t have the ethical backbone to do what’s right anyway.
There’s more in the HOME report, too. Despite the federal Fair Housing Act requiring that multi-family housing units be accessible to people with disabilities, it found that 88 percent didn’t meet those accessibility requirements — mailboxes and trash facilities weren’t accessible, there weren’t curb cuts for wheelchairs, kitchens were too small, and so on.
There may be some people who roll their eyes at required ethics and fair housing training — how hard is it to know not to offer the white guy a better price than the black guy? But some people, clearly, have a lot to learn.