Study Finds Widespread Housing Discrimination In Vermont

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A new study released by Vermont Legal Aid finds that there is housing discrimination going on in Vermont. And as VPR’s Jane Lindholm reports, it’s widespread.

(Lindholm) The study found that African Americans, foreign-born people – or people who sound foreign-born, people with children, and people with disabilities face significant discrimination when they try to rent an apartment.

Rachel Batterson is project manager for Vermont Legal Aid’s Housing Discrimination Law Project, which conducted testing mostly in Chittenden County over the past two years.

(Batterson) "Landlords preferred white testers of U.S. origin 38 percent of the time when the test was on race/color, 40 percent of the time when the test was based on national origin, and that 36 percent of the landlords preferred families without children."

(Lindholm) The study also found varying degrees of violations of the fair housing act for accessibility for people with disabilities in more than 80 percent of rental units surveyed.

The federal Housing and Urban Development Agency subsidized Legal Aid to conduct 90 site visits of open rental units as well as 300 phone tests. Batterson says testers were screened to resemble one another except for the one variable they were trying to test discrimination for – race, or national origin for example.

(Batterson) "We look for behaviors mostly.  It can be things like shaking hands or not shaking hands. Giving an application form or not giving an application form.  Describing the positive aspects of an apartment or describing the negative ones. And some of those are more concrete and some of them are less."

(Lindholm) The report then divides the results into three categories: "No apparent discrimination," "discrimination," or "control tester favored," where discrimination was strongly suggested but not definitive. 

For example, if the landlord called the white tester back several times but only followed up once with the non-white test subject.

Under the Federal Fair Housing Act it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability or family status. And in Vermont it is against the law to discriminate based on marital status, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and receipt of public assistance.

Vermont Legal Aid’s Batterson says the study could provide evidence in legal cases moving forward, but more than that she hopes the results will open Vermonters’ eyes to the levels of discrimination going on and encourage Vermonters to think more openly about our prejudices. 

For VPR News, I’m Jane Lindholm.

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