Report: Mentally Disabled Face Rental Housing Discrimination

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Posted: Tuesday, September 5, 2017 8:30 pm | Updated: 9:36 am, Wed Sep 6, 2017.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 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.

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.

"Today’s study spotlights the types of discrimination people with mental disabilities experience when searching for housing," said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. "The findings will not only inform our enforcement efforts, but enable us to identify and remove barriers for those who face housing discrimination. Though nearly 30 years have passed since the Fair Housing Act was expanded to protect individuals with disabilities, we still have work to do to ensure equitable housing opportunities for all."

The study has significant importance for the future of paired testing for housing discrimination because it represents the first multi-city 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, D.C. 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.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

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