Black Renters Met Bias in San Diego Apartment Survey

Times Staff Writer

Blacks seeking to rent apartments in seven sections of San Diego faced some form of discrimination 40% of the time, according to a covert test of the housing market presented to the city’s Housing Commission on Thursday.

In 14 of 35 locations, black test renters seeking apartments were treated differently from white test renters who applied for the same apartments on the same day, according to the report by the Urban League of San Diego, which conducted the test for the commission.

While housing officials stressed that the test sample was too small to generalize the results to the entire city, “the survey served its purpose of giving a very good indication that there is discrimination out there,” said Evan Becker, the commission’s executive director.

Councilman Wes Pratt, the commission’s new chairman, called for wider testing of the rental market.


The study was part of a larger report by the city’s Fair Housing Task Force, which also concluded that San Diego has racially and ethnically segregated housing patterns, an imbalance that is partially attributable to low-income housing programs enacted by the city.

Poor whites are more broadly scattered about the city than poor minority groups, and blacks suffer more segregation than Latinos, who are more segregated than Asians, the report stated.

Landlords and rental agents discriminated most frequently by misrepresenting the availability of apartments, the report said.

“White testers were given immediate dates and shown several apartments, as opposed to the black testers, who were given two weeks to one month for a unit to become available and a lesser number of apartments for consideration,” the report said.

At one apartment, a white renter was given information on 10 apartments and told that one was available immediately. A black renter at the same apartment house was given information on only one apartment and told that none was available immediately. In all, the study documented 11 cases of misrepresented apartment availability.

The report also documented five examples of differing levels of courtesy to white and black renters, ranging from “very subtle to being outright rude.”

But some examples of discrimination were more subtle. Two cases pertained to more extensive questioning of black renters’ marital status, and one involved a black renter receiving a much more detailed description of the rigor of the upcoming credit check.

“Differential treatment is differential treatment,” said Joan Dahlin, senior program analyst on the project for the commission, who said that such subtle discrimination has a “chilling effect” on blacks’ search for rental housing.