Posted on August 25, 2011

Crying Racism on Rentals

Oregon Live, August 24, 2011

The Fair Housing Council of Oregon’s flimsy audit is a gift to those who discriminate against racial minorities in housing or deny that such bias exists. It gives them the last thing they deserve–ammo to fire at efforts, including a new city plan, to fight discrimination in housing.

Last May, the Fair Housing Council delivered a report to City Hall with a shocking headline: nearly two-thirds of Portland landlords discriminated against African American and Hispanics posing as prospective renters. We argued in this space about “rampant discrimination” and a rental market “rife with racism,” and state legislators, among others, demanded action against the landlords.

But when the city and Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries made a stab at using the information in the audit to build cases against individual landlords, the whole thing fell apart. On Tuesday, BOLI tossed out the only complaint filed against an audited landlord for alleged discrimination and released the entire audit for the first time, along with an analysis that showed that the field tests were sloppy and the report riddled with errors.

The Fair Housing Council protests that its audit never was intended as a law enforcement tool. Fine, but it’s so poorly done that it’s also a completely unreliable assessment of the extent of discrimination in the rental market. BOLI found many discrepancies between what the field testers experienced and what was reported in the audit. It even said evidence of supposed landlord discrimination was gathered over the phone. Really?

The worthless audit cost taxpayers $19,000, but the real loss is in the damage to the credibility of those working hard to confront the lingering problem of housing discrimination in Portland.