Survey Shows Rent Bias Against Blacks in City

Times Staff Writer

The president of the Urban League of San Diego said Friday that he is upset with the findings of a survey by his organization that indicated that blacks trying to rent apartments in white neighborhoods are treated differently than white applicants in almost half of the test cases.

The study, conducted last summer by the Urban League for the San Diego Housing Commission, will be presented to the six-member commission at its Jan. 12 meeting.

Herb Cawthorne was also irritated that details of the survey leaked to the media.

“The process has been breached, inasmuch as the report was not to be official until the commission had the opportunity to review it,” Cawthorne said. “Since that happened, I will say we found in our auditing a considerable percentage of differential treatment for blacks versus whites, and that we find that disturbing.


‘Suggests Need for Training’

“It suggests the need for training and careful preparation of apartment managers to determine whether they have strands of prejudicial thought that would make them treat people differently.”

Cawthorne confirmed details about how the survey was gathered that appeared in Friday’s edition of the San Diego Union:

The survey was conducted at large apartment complexes in largely white neighborhoods throughout the city. Three couples would go to each building posing as prospective renters. A white couple went first, followed at half-hour intervals by a black couple and then another white couple. Cawthorne said the differences in treatment ranged from subtle to blatant.


“I think the findings were surprising,” he said. “I was particularly surprised by the consistency of the 40% figure (the percentage by which blacks received ‘differential’ treatment from whites). We knew we’d find some discrimination, but to find that much . . .

“There were not a lot of instances of outright, blatant, gross discrimination. There was a lot of subtle discrimination--failure to invite an application, or a white person would apply but not be asked to provide a TRW report. The black person would be asked for a TRW every time,” he said, referring to a standard credit report.

Report Not Yet Complete

Mary Jo Riley, a spokeswoman for the San Diego Housing Commission, bemoaned the fact that news of the survey had leaked to the media and would not comment. She said the report was not yet complete.


A spokeswoman for the San Diego Apartment Assn., an apartment owners group, also declined comment.

Wes Pratt, the only black member of the City Council and chairman of the Housing Commission, was unavailable for comment.

Cawthorne said he hoped that premature release of the survey’s findings would not lessen its impact in discussions by the Housing Commission. Cawthorne said he hopes to broaden the survey, taking a look, not only at other neighborhoods of the city, but also at employers.

“I think the wider we look, the better,” he said. “In this area, this city obviously has a problem.”