Discrimination in Virginia

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.

About Andrew Kantor

Andrew is VAR's editor and information manager, and -- lessee now -- a former reporter for the Roanoke Times, former technology columnist for USA Today, and a former magazine editor for a bunch of places. He hails from New York with stops in Connecticut, New Jersey, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Roanoke.
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13 Responses to Discrimination in Virginia

  1. Jim Duncan says:

    How many of them were Realtors?

  2. I have a phone call into the PR person already to ask that very question. My guess is that they won’t know, but I’m wondering if they’ll have names so we can look them up….

    (All right, maybe that’s a bit too far. But I’m curious too.)

  3. Jeremy Hart says:

    I doubt they’d have that information as well, but what a sad fact to report.

    What do we need to do as an industry to clean this kind of stuff up? Granted, some of this is a sociological discussion, but what can be done to assure that our practitioners aren’t discriminating like this? Is it an educational thing, or does it go deeper than that?

  4. It’d be nice to be able to say, “Whoops, these people just need to know the law,” but my gut tells me that it’s not about that. You shouldn’t need a law to tell you the obvious. (Then again, you shouldn’t need the threat of secret shoppers to give good customer service at Brookstone, but that’s what they used.)

    So, if you’ve got someone who’s comfortable telling white folks “You won’t need a security deposit” and black folks “You’ll need a month’s rent up front” or whatever, do you think a couple of classes is going to change what’s going on inside?

    Note: This comment was edited by the author.

  5. Tammy says:

    I’m not sure a couple of classes will cure something deeply roooted. Here in South Carolina, it is a significant problem.

  6. Tina Bradley says:

    Maybe the penalities need to be higher in fiancial reprimand, maybe that will get their attention that this is not acceptable. Most of the time I have seen where it is not the people sitting in the classrooms getting the education that are the problem, it is the ones that are not there. I believe that you should need to be licensed across the Board to Manage Rental property and be required to sit in a classroom for at least the allotted time each year ( for the Fair Housing hours). Not online studies but in a classroom setting. the fines need to be alot larger and a second offense could mean loosing your license for good or a 6 month period. Some people only understand when you hit them in their livelyhood ( where it counts).

  7. sheri says:

    Has any one heard of reverse discrimination!!! Where White buyers do not want to work with highly qualified Black Realtors!

  8. David Gould says:

    I’m on the Board of Directors at Housing Opportunites Made Equal (HOME) and I am also a Realtor. I run a property management company and have been a landlord for many years. So…..I was really dismayed when I heard the results of this audit several weeks ago. Being a Board member doesn’t make me privvy to any info that isn’t public, but because most of the testing was done at apartment complexes, my feeling is that the vast majority of the offenders were non-licensees (HOME has not checked on their license status). Discrimination is deplorable, whether by licensees or private individuals, but let’s hope that Realtors are not a major source of the bad acts. I will try to find out more. The full audit report is available at http://www.PhoneHome.org

  9. I agree with Tammy. Discrimination is an internal character flaw that can’t be fixed with classes. Just yank their license.

  10. Mike Taylor says:

    It is hard to believe that things like this still happen in this day and age. What is wrong with people?

  11. This happens anywhere, anytime. This can’t really be fully addressed with classes though..

  12. Jeremy Hart says:

    I know that discrimination is an internal character flaw, and that classes won’t solve the problem. In my head I know that, in my heart I wish it were easier.

  13. Cate Douglas says:

    Discrimination comes in all forms – not just color. How do you deal with adults (65+) who pry into the marital status of other residents in a community and make life difficult for a couple (both of whom are over 55)? With regard to a statement made earlier about Realtors and what they should know – Realtors should also get Disclosure Packets to their clients, but this doesn’t happen. We just got out of a contract because a builder accidently removed or failed to include the “financials.” Also failed to mention that he had committed fraud by failing to get certain permits, but then again it seems to be the norm in this area. Until the laws have some teeth, things like this will continue. In PA, they will put you in jail and go after your finances. Maybe some VA residents who go to church on Sunday and act like the devil Monday through Saturday should start going to jail or start abiding by the law. Maybe fines of $50K or more will wake some people up as well as jail time.

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