Fair Housing Laws in Mass. lack teeth, critics say


Shanyce Parker has a credit score of over 800, a long history of working as a housing advocate for those struggling with homelessness, and has generally paid her rent on time, all of which she believes should do of her a candidate of choice for the openings of apartments.

But when Parker informs realtors that she is entitled to a housing voucher, the South End mother-of-two told lawmakers on Monday: “They usually ghost me.”

“I have stopped counting the number of apartments I have been denied over the years,” Parker said. “I was trying to educate the officers on the good guys and how they work, but now when someone says no, I don’t fight them anymore.”

Massachusetts has anti-discrimination laws on the books, but experts and advocates warn insufficient training and enforcement is allowing discriminatory housing practices to escalate, reducing options for many people who already face other obstacles.

Aiming at the issue, lawmakers pushed for a bill (H 428 / S 208On Monday, it would lengthen license suspension periods for those found to be discriminatory, empower fair housing law enforcement agencies to refer more cases to registration commissions, and add a licensing expert. fair housing and civil rights at the Board of Real Estate Brokers.

The legislation, tabled by Representative Adrian Madaro of East Boston and Senator Adam Gomez of Springfield, would also require all real estate brokers or sellers to take at least four hours of dedicated fair housing training as part of the regular courses they are required to take. follow to acquire or renew a license.

Madaro said tougher penalties would cause “a deeper culture shift and change in the housing market.”

“By strengthening the strength of existing fair housing laws, we can create a more robust response to the housing crisis we face here in the Commonwealth,” Madaro said. “Failure to tackle discrimination against voucher holders compromises the effectiveness of one of the best tools we have in our fight against the housing crisis.”

Suffolk University Law School, Analysis Group, and Boston Foundation researchers sent bogus tenants to the Greater Boston Market to study the impact of race or ethnicity and voucher status on their results .

They found substantial shortcomings: Black testers looking for apartments were discriminated against 71% of the time, and those who held Section 8 housing vouchers were discriminated against 86% of the time. regardless of their race, according to the researchers. concluded last year.

Catherine LaRaia, who worked on the research team, told the committee that those recruited for the experiment faced “blatant” discrimination, often obvious enough that they “knew exactly what was going on.”

In one case, LaRaia said, a tester reported that a real estate agent enthusiastically responded by phone during an apartment survey, but the tone “changed abruptly” when the tester provided the first name Kareem. The agent said they would call a day later, but never did.

LaRaia recalled another tester, a white woman who described no need for a voucher, visited an apartment and was later dismissed by an agent, who invited her to join a private screening for an unlisted unit. Two black testers and one who was white but had a voucher never had the same opportunity, she said.

“We didn’t design this study to look at brokers, but we found them,” LaRaia said. “Over 90% of testers have interacted with real estate agents, and they are licensed professionals engaged in discriminatory practices.”

No one spoke out against the bill during Monday’s hearing.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors supports separate legislation on Beacon Hill which requires additional fair housing education to acquire a real estate license and imposes additional continuing education requirements, but does not include strengthened enforcement mechanisms.

Theresa Hatton, CEO of the association, said in a statement to the press service that housing discrimination “remains a major concern” despite her group’s efforts to educate members. Hatton said she looked forward to working with supporters of the Madaro-Gomez bill and the committee “to craft legislation that will advance the goals of the Fair Housing Act.”

Will Onuoha, executive director of the City of Boston’s Fair Housing and Equity Office, told the committee he had observed “overwhelming evidence” of housing discrimination across the city. The conditions described by LaRaia and others during the hearing, Onuoha said, are “exactly what we see on a daily basis.”

“There’s a reason Boston, Massachusetts is called a racist city, and housing discrimination is at the center of it,” he said. “This bill is so important because it will force real estate brokers to be responsible for their part in housing discrimination.

For Parker, the issues of the invoice are clear.

“If this bill had already passed I am sure I would have moved years ago,” she said.

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