Targeting Disability Discrimination: Findings and Reflections from the National Study on Housing Discrimination against People Who Are Deaf and People Who Use Wheelchairs

By Aranda, Claudia L. | Cityscape, September 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Targeting Disability Discrimination: Findings and Reflections from the National Study on Housing Discrimination against People Who Are Deaf and People Who Use Wheelchairs


Aranda, Claudia L., Cityscape


Introduction

The primary goal of the first national paired-testing study of housing discrimination against people who are deaf or hard of hearing and people who use wheelchairs, Housing Discrimination Study-Disabilities (HDS-Disabilities), was to produce national estimates of differential treatment in the rental market (Levy et al., 2014). Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and conducted by the Urban Institute, the study also measured the willingness of housing providers to approve reasonable modification requests made by prospective tenants who use a wheelchair.1 Because HDS-Disabilities included two distinctly different populations, it was implemented as two separate studies, each with its own methodological, analytical, and practical complexities, many of which are discussed in this article. In both studies, testers posed as well-qualified rental homeseekers with the same qualifications and needs. From the perspective of the housing provider, the only difference between the two testers in a pair (who are matched on sex, race or ethnicity, and age) is their disability status. Testers with the same profiles should receive the same treatment; when housing providers offer different housing costs or terms, the tests provide direct evidence of discrimination. Overall, the findings of HDS-Disabilities highlight the challenges people with disabilities face when they search for a home; although they might not face higher costs, on average, than homeseekers without disabilities, they must contact more housing providers to find housing that meets their needs. The study helps provide important details about the experiences of homeseekers with disabilities, which strongly suggest directions for research, education, and advocacy.

HDS-Disabilities builds on the lessons of the 2005 pilot disabilities study, also funded by HUD and conducted by the Urban Institute, which explored the feasibility of using paired-testing to measure housing discrimination against people with disabilities (Turner et al., 2005).2 The study findings showed that adverse treatment of people with disabilities occurs more often during the initial stages of housing searches than the adverse treatment of African-American or Hispanic renters (Turner et al., 2005). When housing providers accepted calls of testers who were deaf, the testers received significantly less information about the rental application process and fewer opportunities for followup than did comparable hearing testers who made telephone inquiries. Among people who used wheelchairs and visited rental properties to inquire about advertised units, the findings showed that they were just as likely as testers without disabilities to meet with a housing provider. People who used wheelchairs, however, were told about fewer available units than were testers without disabilities and received less information about the application process, although they were quoted lower fees than were comparable testers without disabilities (Turner et al., 2005). HDS-Disabilities ultimately drew heavily from the protocols and measures used in the pilot study and from sampling3 and field implementation procedures from the more recent 2012 Housing Discrimination Study, which were updated to reflect changes in rental housing markets, housing search practices, and communication technologies (Levy et al., 2014).

Background

In 1988, the Fair Housing Act was amended to prohibit discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing on the basis of a disability.4 The amendments, which were enacted in 1989, made it illegal for housing providers to refuse to rent or sell to people with disabilities; impose different qualification criteria; or require different fees, terms, or conditions. The Fair Housing Act requires that housing providers make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability the equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and when such changes do not create an undue burden for the housing provider. …

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