Academic journal article Cityscape

Fair Housing Testing: Selecting, Training, and Managing an Effective Tester Pool

Academic journal article Cityscape

Fair Housing Testing: Selecting, Training, and Managing an Effective Tester Pool

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the late 1970s, the paired-testing methodology has been used in housing discrimination studies funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to measure patterns of adverse treatment across the housing market. The methodology has been adapted for both research and enforcement purposes to investigate differential treatment on the basis of specific characteristics. For example, in a test designed to estimate the level of discrimination against families with children, two comparably qualified homeseekers-one with children and one without children- inquire about available housing. Each tester documents the information he or she obtains and the level of service provided-from contacting an agent; securing an appointment; meeting with an agent to view available units; and learning about move-in dates, monthly rent, security deposits, utilities, and any required fees. The results of the paired tests are then compared to determine whether and how the treatment experienced by testers with children differs systematically from that experienced by testers without children. Since forms of discrimination can be less blatant than they once were, housing testing studies can reveal important insights into marketwide behaviors and uncover systemic practices that would otherwise go undetected.

Since the spring of 2011, the Urban Institute's Field Operations Team has supervised the completion of more than 13,000 paired tests across multiple housing discrimination studies (HDS) on race and ethnicity (HDS2012), familial status (HDS-Families), disability (HDS-Disabilities), and sexual orientation and gender identity (HDS-LGT). During the course of these studies, the Urban Institute contracted with testing organizations based in more than 40 cities across the country to coordinate tests. Although most of these groups have been fair housing organizations with active testing programs, some have had limited or no previous testing experience.1 For all these HDS studies, the Field Operations Team was led by a director of field operations and regional coordinators based at the Urban Institute who were responsible for training local test coordinators, overseeing tester recruitment, training testers, supervising testing and test report preparation, reviewing test reports, maintaining daily contact with test coordinators at each site, and monitoring incoming data (submitted via an online data collection system). Careful oversight and regular communication enabled the Field Operations Team to anticipate operational challenges and correct problems as soon as they developed at any study site. The implementation lessons of the many HDS studies can help illuminate the "best practices" in building and sustaining a tester pool capable of completing the meticulous work that paired testing requires. The successful completion of any fair housing testing study requires (1) a careful tester-selection process, (2) a rigorous training program, and (3) and effective management, all of which are discussed in the forthcoming sections.

Tester Selection

One of the first tasks any fair housing testing study must accomplish is the successful recruitment and selection of capable and committed testers. On each of the HDS studies, project staff have expended considerable effort recruiting testers who could be matched on age, gender, and other relevant characteristics to compose suitable tester pairs. Even organizations with robust testing programs have needed to recruit additional testers to complete the required number of HDS tests, particularly because some studies have required sites to conduct between 200 and 600 in-person paired tests. Selected testers ideally will have sufficient availability to complete multiple tests on a study.2 On more recent HDS studies, the project team has established caps for the number of tests any single tester can conduct. A tester cap can help limit the extent to which the characteristics and behavior of any tester or tester pair can affect the study findings. …

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