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HUD Report Finds Persons Living With Mental Disabilities Face Rental Housing Discrimination

HUD Report Finds Persons Living With Mental Disabilities Face Significant Rental Housing Discrimination

Persons living with mental illness, intellectual or other developmental disabilities continue to face significant housing discrimination in the rental housing market, according to a new pilot study released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Rental Housing Discrimination on the Basis of Mental Disabilities: Results of Pilot Testing finds that when compared to people without mental disabilities, those persons who are living with mental disabilities receive fewer responses to their rental inquiries, are informed of fewer available units, and are less likely to be invited to contact the housing provider.  In addition, HUD’s study found that they are less likely to be invited to tour an available unit, are more likely to be steered to a different unit than the one advertised, and are treated differently depending on their type of disability.

The study also examined what happens when a person with a mental disability makes a request for a reasonable accommodation, finding that a large percentage of people with mental disabilities were given a negative response to their requests, ranging from outright denials to subtler barriers.

The findings of the study has significant importance for the future of paired testing for housing discrimination because it represents the first multicity housing discrimination study to utilize people with mental disabilities as testers. Research focused on two areas: the prevalence and kinds of discrimination facing people with mental disabilities seeking rental housing in the private market, and effective methodologies for testing for housing discrimination using people with mental disabilities as testers.

As a pilot study, it was conducted through e-mail and phone testing in nine small and mid-sized urban rental markets that mirror the distribution of the mental and developmental disability population across metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S., and with in-person testing in the two large rental markets, Chicago and Washington, DC. Testing was divided equally between mental illness and intellectual developmental disabilities, and a total of more than 1,000 matched pair tests (i.e. pairing and comparing testers with mental disabilities with testers who have no mental disabilities, known as control testers) were administered.

The pilot study revealed that individuals with mental disabilities seeking rental housing were: 

Less likely to receive a response to their inquiry in e-mail testing (17.55 percent of people without disabilities received a response compared with 9.19 percent of people with mental illness and intellectual or developmental disability in email testing);

Less likely to be told an advertised unit was available in in-person testing (5.94 percent of people without disabilities were told that the advertised unit was available compared with 0.99 percent of people with mental illness and intellectual or developmental disabilities in in-person testing);

Less likely to be invited to contact the housing provider in e-mail testing (7.69 percent of people without disabilities were invited to contact the housing provider to see the unit compared with 0.00 percent of people with mental illness and intellectual or developmental disabilities in e-mail testing);

Less likely to be invited to inspect the available unit in telephone testing (21.26 percent of people without disabilities were invited to inspect the unit compared with 16.47 percent of people with mental illness and intellectual or developmental disabilities in telephone testing);

More likely to be encouraged to look at a different unit than the one advertised in telephone testing, a potential indicator of steering people with mental illness and intellectual or developmental disabilities toward specific buildings or areas within rental complexes; and

Treated adversely at disparate rates depending on disability type, with higher rates of adverse treatment found for individuals with mental illness than for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Additionally, the willingness of a housing provider to grant a request for an accommodation varied by mode of testing, with the rate of granting a request for a reasonable accommodation being significantly higher when the request was made by telephone compared to email.  However, regardless of the testing mode, a significant percentage of people with mental disability seeking reasonable accommodation were given a negative response to their request.  Moreover, when requests were made by phone, response rates differed by type of disability, revealing that a higher percentage of housing providers were willing to provide accommodations to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (63.8 percent) than to people with mental illness (55.2 percent).

These results suggest that a broad-based initiative to educate housing providers about their fair housing rights and obligations could be helpful.  The study also suggests that housing, disability, and civil rights organizations should increase their efforts to educate persons with mental disabilities about their housing rights, how to recognize discrimination, and what actions they should take when facing possible discrimination.

HUD is also publishing four supplemental short papers that complement and further illustrate the complex issues surrounding both housing discrimination against people with mental disabilities and the involvement of people with mental disabilities in testing for housing discrimination.  The main pilot study and four supplemental papers can be found here.

The majority of complaints filed with HUD and its partner agencies under the Fair Housing Act in Fiscal Year 2016 were on the basis of disability, with 4,908 complaints – or more than 58 percent of all fair housing complaints. HUD provides Fair Housing Assistance Program funding annually on a noncompetitive basis to state and local agencies that enforce fair housing laws substantially equivalent to the Fair Housing Act, in order for them to support a variety of fair housing administrative and enforcement activities. Through the Fair Housing Initiatives Program, HUD also provides funds to eligible organizations through competitive grants under initiatives designed to prevent or eliminate discriminatory housing practices and inform individuals of their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act.  

Fairfax County

In Fairfax County, the Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice (2016-2020) is available for public comment.  The report provides an overview of the fair housing situation in Fairfax County, with findings and recommendations to overcome the effects of identified impediments. 

Of note, the report states that of the 337 total housing discrimination complaints involving rental housing filed between 2011 and 2015, 37 percent were grounded on disability — the most frequent basis for complaints.

To view the report, click here. Written comments on the report may be submitted to the attention of Margaret Squires via email at Margaret.squires@fairfaxcounty.gov.  For questions or additional information, please call 703-324-2953 (TTY: 711).  The deadline for receipt of written comments on the Fairfax County Analysis of Impediments for Fair Housing Choice (2016-2020) will be 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

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