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A Group Discussion Identifying Discriminatory Practices Related to Housing Searches in Hampden County, Massachusetts Authored by

Marcie Gallo O’Connell, Violet Gayzagian, Patrick Kelley, Meredith Savage, and Seth Taylor for

RP 577 Urban Policies Professor Ellen Pader

December 13, 2016


Table of Contents 1.0 INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................. 1 1.1

Purpose .............................................................................................................................. 3

1.2

Demographics .................................................................................................................... 3

2.0

METHODOLOGY ................................................................................................................ 5

2.1

Class Readings ................................................................................................................... 5

2.2

MFHC Training ................................................................................................................. 6

2.3

Calls ................................................................................................................................... 7

2.4

Information Recorded ........................................................................................................ 7

2.5

Using Policy Map to Look for Potential Relationships to the Data .................................. 8

3.0

ANALYSIS & FINDINGS ................................................................................................... 8

3.1

Ads ..................................................................................................................................... 8

3.2

Call Logs .......................................................................................................................... 17

3.3

Rental Application Process .............................................................................................. 23

3.3.1. Rental Applications ....................................................................................................... 23 3.3.2. Application Fees and Agency Fees ............................................................................... 24 3.3.3. Cash at Move-In ............................................................................................................ 24 3.3.4. Proof of Income and References. .................................................................................. 24 3.3.5. Background and Credit Checks..................................................................................... 24 3.3.6. Verbal Requirements versus Published Requirements ................................................. 25 3.3.7 Putting it All Together ................................................................................................... 26 3.4

Narratives and Reflections ............................................................................................... 27

3.5

Policy Map Observations ................................................................................................. 33

3.5.1 Poverty ........................................................................................................................... 35 3.4.2 Race ................................................................................................................................ 36 3.4.3 Highways and Rivers as Barriers ................................................................................... 37 4.0

CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................... 38

REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................... 42


Table of Figures Figure 1. Hampden24-16 Ad .......................................................................................................... 11 Figure 2. Hampden15-16 Ad .......................................................................................................... 12 Figure 3. Co-Occurrence Matrix .................................................................................................... 16 Figure 4. Percentage of Calls Made to Listings Above FMR vs. Below FMR .............................. 19 Figure 5. Frequency of Status Person ............................................................................................. 19 Figure 6. Responses Before Asking About Section 8 .................................................................... 20 Figure 7. Responses Directly After Asking About Section 8......................................................... 20 Figure 8. Percentage of Calls Answered/Returned ........................................................................ 21 Figure 9. Percentages of Changes in Attitude After Section 8 Question ....................................... 21 Figure 10. Percentage of Background Check/CORI Responses .................................................... 22 Figure 11. Number of Calls by Town ............................................................................................. 22 Figure 12. Verbal Requirements vs. Published Requirements ....................................................... 25 Figure 13: Springfield Affordable Housing Percentages ............................................................... 34 Figure 14: Holyoke Affordable Housing Percentages ................................................................... 34 Figure 15. Poverty in Springfield ................................................................................................... 35 Figure 16. Non-white Populations in Springfield .......................................................................... 36 Figure 17. Barriers .......................................................................................................................... 38 List of Tables Table 1. Responses to Section 8 Question ....................................................................................... 1 Table 2. Total Costs by Move-in Date ........................................................................................... 26 Table 3. After Section 8 Question Matrix ...................................................................................... 29 Table 4. Requirements Mentioned After Section 8 Question ........................................................ 32 Table 5. Percentage of Population Living in Poverty .................................................................... 35


1.0

INTRODUCTION

This chapter/paper represents the analysis and findings for Hampden County, Massachusetts, one of four counties assessed for potential discriminatory practices related to Section 8 housing. The four counties include Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden, and Berkshire. In general terms, the purpose of the project was to identify and analyze whether, and where discriminatory practices exist in the search for housing. Data were collected from a total of 41 ads and 29 completed calls made inquiring about availability of rental properties and whether Section 8 vouchers would be accepted. Each call was documented by filling out a call log, writing a narrative of the actual conversation, and recording personal thoughts about the call in a reflective essay. Analysis was based on these written documents as well as an examination of the posted rental advertisements. Table 1 provides the breakdown of responses to the Section 8 question. Table 1.0. Responses to Section 8 Question Total Calls

Yes Response

No Response

41

Calls Completed 29

26

0

Percentage

71% (of total)

89% (of completed calls)

0

Response Indeterminate 3 11% (of completed calls)

Calls were made on ads in ten of Hampden County’s 23 towns, with a little over one-third of the calls placed for ads in the Springfield area. Overall, none of the ads contained blatantly discriminatory language, however, we noted that only two ads even mentioned Section 8 and none of the ads had any language to the effect of “Section 8 vouchers welcome.” This was an early flag for our group that exclusionary processes might be more in operation than blatant acts of discrimination. Although none of our calls resulted in outright refusals of Section 8 vouchers, three calls had responses that were indeterminate. As we delved deeper into our analysis of words, we decided to explore beyond looking for the use of discriminatory language in ads. We developed a co-occurrence matrix of words found within the ads in an attempt to see what other patterns might be evident. We found that some of the most interesting data came not from the words appearing with the most frequency, but rather from the words appearing with the least frequency- over half the 53 words selected for the matrix occurred ten or fewer times, and those words tended to be among the most descriptive terms.


Hampden 2016 One area of analysis focused on the types of information provided or requested by the rental

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agents/landlords prior to the question of whether Section 8 vouchers were accepted compared to after the Section 8 question was asked. Our group found that after the Section 8 question there was a definite increase in statements that pre-screening applications, credit checks, and background/CORI checks would be required. For example, prior to asking the question, no calls registered requests for pre-screening applications, yet 10 percent of the calls registered this stated requirement after the question. Also, we found that 24 percent of our completed calls were made to listings that were above the Fair Market Rent (FMR) value for Hampden County, and of those, several agents/landlords indicated an awareness of the FMR through their statements that the Section 8 voucher would not qualify for their particular listing. Although we did not have enough data to make a conclusive statement, it did raise the possibility that some property owners could be listing rentals at just over the FMR. We observed that in terms of exclusionary process, discrimination via Section 8 was rendered almost unnecessary by virtue of the fact that the combination of application fees, rental agency fees, the requirement of first, last, and security deposit (the equivalent of three months’ rent) at move-in, and the requirement for proof of income amounting to two times the rental amount with a housing voucher (or, three times the rental amount without a housing voucher), was more than adequate to weed out low income wage earners from even applying. In fact, the $1100 monthly income of the “persona” (our character) making the call would exclude him/her from qualifying for a two bedroom apartment at the low-end rent of $850 per month. Narratives and Reflections were written for every call made; the narratives provided a written, objective reconstruction of each call and the reflections provided a recounting of each caller’s thought processes, emotions, and reactions during the call. All calls had a basic script in terms of the assumed character making the call, but were otherwise unstructured; the common thread of all the calls, narratives, and reflections was the question of whether Section 8 voucher was accepted. While the narratives provided insight to the rental application process, it was the reflections that revealed instances of micro-aggressions in agent/landlord responses to the housing voucher question and highlighted group members’ own responses to what often felt like a bombardment of rental requirements, most of which had not been provided in the ads, and many of which came after the inquiry about Section 8 acceptance. Narratives and reflections both provided evidence of


Hampden 2016 roadblocks to the prospective renter in the form of ambiguous to outright misinformation from

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agents/landlords regarding Section 8 requirements. An additional layer of analysis was made through correlating various types of information available through Policy Map with the locations of rental ads responded to. One observation is that the majority of low income housing in the Holyoke, Chicopee-Springfield is located in areas with high concentrations of households earning below 50% of median income for the state. Another observation is that the poverty rate in these areas is 26 percent, exceeding the national and state rates, and exceeding the county rate of 17.7 percent. One explanation for the high degree of requiring pre-application screening, rental applications, fees, triple the rent at move-in, and documented income requirements is that landlords may very well be using all of the legal methods at their disposal to exclude tenants who they deem problematic or less desirable. 1.1

Purpose

In general terms, the purpose of our project is to identify and analyze whether, and where discriminatory practices exist in the search for housing. We intend to open discussion about such practices, but also examine the questions, concerns, and observations that arise from both the housing search itself, and through analyzing the data collected during the search for housing. Given that our methodology for approaching this purpose includes inquiring as to whether or not Section 8 housing vouchers would be accepted at potential rental properties, it is important that we include in our purpose the assessment of what actually occurs when a testing caller mentions Section 8, or queries a landlord or property manager about it. We will assess, and discuss whether or not discrimination occurs related to Section 8 housing, either through blatantly illegal practices such as the outright refusal to accept Section 8, or possibly via less obvious or easily hidden ways. As well, our purpose includes assessing whether, and if so, where other forms of discrimination might be occurring. Finally, we will examine the advertisements for housing options themselves, as well as the narratives and reflections we have written on each testing call, and utilize the differences and similarities we observe between them to inform our discussion. 1.2

Demographics

Hampden County is one of three counties (Hampden, Franklin, and Hampshire) comprising an area in western Massachusetts known as the Pioneer Valley. The fourth county included in the


Hampden 2016 4 overall project, Berkshire County, spans the length of the state north-south and forms the western boundary of the other three counties. Hampden has a land area of approximately 617 square miles and is the most urban of the four counties, with a density of approximately 751 persons per square mile and a total population of 463,490 as of the 2010 United States Census (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). It is bisected by two major transportation corridors, I-91 running north-south roughly parallel to the Connecticut River, and I-90, oriented east-west through the center of the county, and to the south it shares a border with Connecticut. Of the county’s 23 towns, six have populations of over 20,000, and one town, Springfield, has a population greater than 100,000; of the remainder, four towns have populations ranging from 10,000-20,000, ten towns have populations of 1,000-10,000, and two towns have populations of under 1,000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, QuickFacts, for 2015, the demographics for race in Hampden County show that individuals identifying as white contribute to 83.3 percent of the population, those identifying as black comprise 10.8 percent, those identifying as Asian comprise 2.5 percent, and the remaining races identified (American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Other Pacific Islander) contribute less than one percent each. For that same year, 24 percent of the total population identified as Hispanic or Latino. Hampden County is slightly behind the national average in education status- 84.1 percent of the population 25 years of age or older have attained a high school diploma or higher compared to 86.3 percent nationally, and 25.1 percent have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 29.3 percent nationally. Approximately 63 percent of the population 16 years or older are in the civilian labor force. The three industries generating the largest percent of revenue in the county are manufacturing, wholesale trade, and retail trade, however, the top three industries by numbers of employees are health care and social services, retail trades, and manufacturing. The per capita income for the county is $26,249 (in 2014 dollars), the median household income is $50,036, and 17.7 percent of the population is living in poverty.


Hampden 2016 2.0

METHODOLOGY

2.1

Class Readings

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Literature review largely consisted of readings and media strictly pertaining to housing discrimination, whether historical, current, relative to policy and law, or the practice of mitigation (through the MFHC manual and training). News articles consisted of United States housing discrimination cases, lawsuits, and personal accounts, many of which were published in papers such as L.A Times, N.Y Times, The Boston Globe, and The Atlantic. Our readings effectively covered the bases of both federal and state-level protected classes, and the modern and historical forms of housing discrimination pertaining to each one. “Sundown Towns” by James W. Loewen largely dealt with the historical context behind systematic racial segregation in the United States, and how this system has been perpetuated into modern-day. Various forms of web-media were used, namely the “MassFairHousing” website, which is primarily educational outreach targeted toward people who may have been discriminated against, or those who are more likely to be discriminated against. This website is specific to Massachusetts housing laws, and contains information pertaining to housing discrimination in general, discriminatory words and phrases often used in advertisements, the process of fair lending, ways in which people can seek justice if they have been discriminated against, as well as a number of testimonials taken from people who have been compensated after housing discrimination cases. The “MFHC Fair Housing Manual” was used as a reference guide covering both Massachusetts and federal forms of discrimination, protected classes, and a section covering words and phrases that are considered either nondiscriminatory, intermediate (cause for concern), and discriminatory. The context of this reading is largely methodological in nature, and was used as a guide during our calls and searches for property. Readings pertaining to familial status discrimination and financial discrimination were also used—cases such as the “DOJ Settles Race and Familial Status FHA Discrimination Case for $75,000”(Badami, 2015) and “DOJ, CFPB Officials Warn More ‘Redlining’ Cases on Way”(Collins, 2015) highlighted modern cases involving familial discrimination, and issues surrounding redlining and other forms of racial and financial discrimination. Gender discrimination was explored using readings such as “I understood gender discrimination once I


Hampden 2016 added “Mr.” to my resume and landed a job” (O’Grady 2013) which looked at the cultural and

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systematic prevalence of gender discrimination through employment. In two course sections entitled “Cognitive Dimensions of Policy” and “Redlining, Steering and Other Ordinances of Despair”, discrimination was explored through an individualistic, psychological lens. Many of the readings in this section, such as “Freeing Up Intelligence” explores the cognitive impact of stress, cognitive overload, lack of access, and the mental impacts associated with financial burden. The context of these sections explored studies showing that stress and financial burden have significant and devastating cognitive impacts, which in many cases perpetuate a cycle of inequality and lack of access. These readings were especially helpful for data analysis pertaining to the difficulty (whether time, finance, language, etc.) of applying for transitional aid, and eventually finding a livable home through transitional aid. Overall, course literature provided us with a means of understanding the modern, historical, social, psychological, economic and political contexts of discrimination, and how to recognize it when it occurs. 2.2

MFHC Training

The methodology used in this project is primarily built on the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center Civil Rights Testing Manual and training. MFHC Testing operates on the acknowledgement that millions of Americans continually face discrimination with housing, lending and home insurance. Modern housing discrimination, by and large, does not exist under the classic, pre-conceived notion of blatant denial, or ‘a door slamming in a face’. Instead, research has shown that housing discrimination is present under more subtle actions that in many cases, operates within the easily avoidable confines of stringent law. MFHC testing involves telephone calling, making an appointment to view property, as well as written narratives detailing the dialogue of each interaction. Our primary method of testing involves telephone calls made to homes, apartments and rooms for rent. The purpose of testing is to evaluate the modern and elusive presence of discrimination in the Massachusetts housing market.


Hampden 2016 2.3

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Calls

We split into teams, each covering a different county within Western Massachusetts. Each team was given a set of male and female ‘personas’ that each member used as an identity for telephone interaction with home and apartment owners, property managers, and realtors. We typically used our own name, or a close variation as our persona identity. This was consistent throughout testing. Both gendered persona-identities are 28 years old, married to a spouse and have a 9 year old daughter, are the only employed parent, make $1,100 monthly, live in Holyoke, have been employed for 2 years, have excellent rental history, and are seeking a new rental home/apartment with a Section 8 voucher. For rent listings were primarily collected through various internet services, such as Craigslist, Zillow, Homes.com, and RentNoHo. The primary goal of each call was to inquire about the property and ask whether or not the owner, property manager, realtor (or other form of respondent) accepts Section 8 vouchers. Screenshots and information about each housing advertisement were taken beforehand. Directly recording phone calls is prohibited under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99, which prohibits the digital recording of telephone dialogue without both parties’ consent, so we recorded narratives (dialogue-based recounts) immediately after the duration of the phone call in order to ensure an accurate representation of each conversation. We also wrote reflections, which include more qualitative, interpretive information about each conversation, regarding opinions on factors such as tone, attitude, and general sense of professionalism. Narratives and reflections were then coded, which involves each caller to categorize each line of each narrative or reflection with a word or phrase, which intends to describe the intent, purpose, feeling or subject of the text. Coding was then used to evaluate subsequent nature (intent, purpose, feeling or subject) of the writing, which is statistically useful for evaluation and creation of trends in data. 2.4

Information Recorded

Following each test we also entered information into a phone-log, an excel sheet containing check boxes for answers and responses that took place during each conversation. This included information regarding the details of the tester’s persona (income, current address, number of children, employment history, etc.), information pertaining to rent, utilities, security deposits, background/CORI checks, application forms, responses to the mandatory question regarding


Hampden 2016 acceptance of Section 8 vouchers, content provided directly after the Section 8 question, and

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information provided before it. Additionally, information concerning anything that was not covered by a category was filled in with a simple response within ‘other information’ boxes. We primarily used the phone-log as a way to represent statistical trends in the calling. 2.5

Using Policy Map to Look for Potential Relationships to the Data

PolicyMap, an interactive GIS database used for information pertaining to demographics, real estate, jobs, income, food security, and healthcare was used to visually analyze demographic information for various Hampden counties. Specifically, we used PolicyMap to represent the geographical location of each called listing, whether or not Section 8 vouchers were reported to be accepted, information pertaining to average income, as well as information regarding the percentage of population with high school degrees. By examining the locations of the apartments on the PolicyMap, it is possible to visualize where these places fall in relation to demographic categories such as poverty level and percentage of housing that’s affordable for households whose income is roughly 50% of the American Median Income. 3.0 3.1

ANALYSIS & FINDINGS Ads

There are a myriad of options available as to how to go about collecting and analyzing data related to advertisements for housing options. The first steps in collecting data for the advertisements are simply to observe, and then preserve, the data, since it cannot be assumed that the ads will exist online in an open-ended capacity. Our housing search was limited to Hampden County, Massachusetts. We collected information by ensuring that as a group, we utilized several different listing websites, and collected information on a variety of cities within the county. (See Figure 11.) We didn’t have any trouble locating housing options in this county, however, we did observe a preponderance of housing options in some cities over others within the county, and thus our data reflects this. For example, we observed that it was very easy to locate advertisements for housing options in Springfield. Our data supports, and reflects this, as 13 calls were made to Springfield, easily the majority of our calls. Westfield, Chicopee, and West Springfield had 6, 5, and 4 calls, respectively. Other cities, such as Holyoke, Agawam, and Ludlow, had many


Hampden 2016 9 advertised housing options, but we only made calls to them 2, 2, and 3 times respectively. Palmer, Three Rivers, and Wilbraham rounded out the remainder of our 41 calls, as we intentionally tried to diversify our data within Hampden County. The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center published a Fair Housing Advertising Manual (MFHC, Fair Housing Advertising) which we used as a guide, and reference to identify possibly discriminatory language in the advertisements. We kept a log of the words we observed in the advertisements that had been listed in the manual. These are words that, according to the MFHC, are acceptable to use in advertising, and also words that are possibly discriminatory. We chose to analyze this particular data at face value for its potential to highlight possible discriminatory advertising practices, as well as its potential to highlight advertising that is conscientious about using appropriate language, descriptions, and photographs. Utilizing the data in this basic way, from the information we collected from the word log, we observed that the advertisements we analyzed didn’t, at face value, illuminate any glaring problems related to discrimination. There was never an instance where blatant discrimination toward people receiving Section 8 benefits appeared in an ad, such as “No Section 8” and this was interesting to observe, and certainly encouraging as to the legal right to not be discriminated against due to receiving these benefits. (See Figure 3.) However, we also observed that no ads contained the words “Section 8 Welcome” either, and this was perhaps the more interesting piece of data. Recognizing the exclusion of language welcoming prospective Section 8 tenants, whether intentional or otherwise, does represent a potential opportunity, for it isn’t just the blatant discriminatory words we should concern ourselves with, but the more hidden ways exclusion, and possibly outright discrimination is allowed to occur. Perhaps requiring this language in advertisements is a possible way to take steps toward making the housing search process feel more inclusive. Of course we realize that failing to put language in an ad specifically advertising a housing option as welcoming to tenants receiving Section 8 benefits does not necessarily mean that Section 8 tenants wouldn’t be accepted. It could, however, make a prospective tenant feel like they wouldn’t be accepted, and thus, it becomes a more important, and intriguing phrase to consider, as to the potential for legally excluding, or at the least discouraging, such tenants. Another topic of interest as it relates to the MFHC Advertising Manual word log is the mention of pets. The term “no pets” appeared in six total advertisements (Hampden1-16, Hampden5-16,


Hampden 2016 Hampden6-16, Hampden21-16, Hampden38-16, and Hampden39-16). The term “no dogs”

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appeared in one advertisement (Hampden10-16). As well, the term “cats ok” appeared in a total of 9 ads (Hampden2-16, Hampden3-16, Hampden4-16, Hampden10-16, Hampden15-16, Hampden18-16, Hampden22-16, Hampden25-16, Hampden26-16). While “cats ok” isn’t, in and of itself, a discriminatory phrase, it does indicate the potential for excluding other animals, and thus should be examined further when it appears. Upon looking into these ads more closely, we observed that three of the ads which stated “cats ok” also contained language indicating that a call would be necessary in order to obtain the service animal policy (Hampden2-16, Hampden3-16, and Hampden15-16). This, whether intentionally or not, unnecessarily burdens such tenants with an added step to find information crucial to their search, and again, aids in the exclusion such tenants might feel during their search. As well, this type of language, particularly saying “no pets” or “no dogs” might be discriminatory. As with the Section 8 language previously mentioned, we realize that while these phrases do not necessarily indicate that a person with disabilities requiring a service animal would not be accepted, it certainly doesn’t go the one step further to intentionally make these tenants feel included, nor does it directly inform a tenant that their service animal, by law, must be allowed. In addition, upon cross analyzing the advertisements themselves with the narratives and reflections for these housing options, we observed that two advertisements (Hampden2-16, and Hampden 3-16) were linked with uneasy feelings on the part of the caller. Each of these two reflections mention either an ‘unfriendly’ or ‘less friendly’ tone after the mention of Section 8, and highlighted for us, the need to look deeper into the advertisements than just the words themselves. Only upon looking at this other data could we see the deeper potential for a variety of discrimination, and/or exclusion, to be occurring at these housing opportunities. In addition to these observations from the word log, there were two more words that showed up, albeit it rarely, which did raise a red flag. We found that on one occasion an advertisement listed the word “exclusive” (Hampden24-16), and on another advertisement the word “secure” was listed (Hampden15-16). Taken alone, the word exclusive does not necessarily mean to discriminate, however, it does raise concern and was worthy of looking deeper into how the word was used. In fact, it was this examination and looking deeper that raised alarm (see Figure 1). The word exclusive wasn’t used in a clearly benevolent manner, as, for example, to say, “An exclusive opportunity.” Instead the word was used to suggest that the community that the housing


Hampden 2016 opportunity was in was exclusive: “Enjoy luxurious condo living in the exclusive Hampden

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Meadow Condominiums” (Hampden24-16). This is troublesome and worthy of further investigation, since, by definition, if it is exclusive, that would mean someone or something is purposefully being excluded. It is imperative to know whom, or what, in order to know why, and then, discuss how to prevent this, either through policy, education, or a combination of both.

Figure 1. Hampden24-16 Ad

A similar analyzation of the appearance of the word “secure” proved to be equally worrisome, if not more so, particularly when analyzed alongside the narrative, reflection, and phone log for this listing. The advertisement specifically listed “secured entry.” Perhaps this wouldn’t, alone, be enough to raise a red flag, however, this advertisement also listed a “locked storage area,” a “private viewing,” and “controlled access” (Hampden15-16).

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Hampden 2016

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100 Lockhouse Rd, Westfield, MA 01085 $1,025/mo Bedrooms: 2 Beds Bathrooms: 1 Bath Parking: 1 Off street | Guest parking Lease Duration: 1 Year (See Details Below) Deposit: $1,025 Pets Policy: Cats OK Laundry: Shared Property Type: Apartment DESCRIPTION Let us pay for your heat and hot water! We are located just seconds from the Mass Pike in a quiet country setting! Weare convenient to all the major highways and a short distance from area businesses like Massmutual and Baystate Medical Center. We offer a spacious 2 bedroom, newly remodeled apartment home with all modern appliances including dishwashers! Newer baths with granite counter tops! New windows and laundry on site in this "English Tudor Style" apartment community. Brand new front loader washer and dryers! We feature an additional locked storage area that come with your unit at no extra charge! Grab a morning coffee from Dunkin Donuts and fill up your tank less than a mile away! Call today for your private viewing! You are sure to be pleased with your new apartment home! Come home to your "Country Setting" ! COMMUNITY FEATURES *Secured entry *Controlled access *Near transportation *Guest parking* Offstreet parking LEASE TERMS 12 month lease Ask about our short term leasing! Please call for our Service Animal Policy. Ask about our garages! Extra locked storage is included free with each unit! Viewing by appointment

Figure 2. Hampden15-16 Ad

The appearance of these words in the ad are perhaps enough to warrant further investigation, but when taken together with the information the caller gathered during their telephone conversation, this listing became more and more disconcerting. The woman who answered the telephone call was friendly, however, there were many red flags during the phone call. Most importantly, there wasn’t a solid answer provided for whether or not Section 8 would be accepted, as the answer stated was, “Sometimes we do.” Upon questioning the caller about who would be living in the apartment, and being told that a married couple with one child would be living there, the agent told the caller that, “that’s no problem, we would accept Section 8.” This begs several questions: What if there were more than one child, would the answer have been different? What if an extended family, or perhaps unrelated people were living there, would there have been a different response? Is there a link between if children, or how many children, will be living in a housing


Hampden 2016 option, and whether Section 8 would be accepted? We do not have clear answers to these

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questions, but they do allow us to highlight this listing as a potentially discriminatory location. The caller made note in her reflection that her instinct was that each prospective tenant was to be evaluated before the agent would make a decision about Section 8. The caller also noted that the agent seemed familiar with Section 8, because said agent talked about not accepting it “in the beginning” but that they “started doing that.” The agent also expressed knowledge that the housing option was “over the limit.” Given that the FMR for 2016 in Hampden County, per HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, FMR), was $1001 for FY2016, and the rent for this housing option was $1025, and in light of the questionable advertising language, and disconcerting telephone call, the question must be asked if this agency is intentionally pricing apartments to be over the limit to qualify for tenants with Section 8 housing vouchers, in order to discriminate against them. It is unknown, but also must be asked, if this agency is aware of the increased FY2017 FMR in Hampden County, and if so, will they adjust their rent to be just over the limit once again. This is a prime example of why looking at the ads more deeply is extremely important, but also very much an example of why our collected data is particularly useful when cross analyzed alongside the telephone call log, the narrative, and the reflection essay regarding the telephone call. The ad itself could not conclusively be described as discriminatory, however, alongside this other information, it would certainly appear there is a reasonable amount of evidence that there is a probability of discrimination against Section 8 tenants occurring at these apartments, and/or by these agents. Besides analyzing the advertisements using the Fair Housing Advertising Manual from MFHC, and logging the words that appear in that manual in order to collect and analyze data, we also chose to use other ethnographic methods, specifically by creating a co-occurrence matrix (Figure 3). The information from the MFHC word log was useful information as it related specifically to discriminatory practices, and whether or not we saw them occurring based on language that is, or could be, discriminatory. Creating a co-occurrence matrix, however, had another intent. Specifically, our matrix was a tool for understanding a cultural domain, as co-occurrence is a “relation that seems to apply to most domains” (Borgatti, p. 118). In essence, we were using the advertisements themselves to determine the internal structure of the cultural domain we examined and, in doing so, essentially ‘asked’ agents who listed the 41 advertisements we examined this


Hampden 2016 question: ‘What information do people in Hampden County want to see in advertisements for

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housing?’ In asking this, we were establishing the cultural domain, ‘Things people in Hampden County want to see in advertisements for housing.’ Since cultural domains are about “people’s perceptions rather that people’s preferences” (Borgatti, p. 116), examining this data as a cultural domain seemed an intriguing and interesting way to look at it. In fact the data itself is the perception of the agents listing the ads and is therefore, essentially, their mental category, whether or not they are consciously classifying these perceptions in the same way we did. Instead of simply identifying words and phrases that the MFHC flagged as either acceptable, or unacceptable as per their advertising manual, our co-occurrence matrix flagged words for various reasons including, but not limited to: they appeared frequently; they struck us as unique; they were alarming; they were descriptive; they seemed commonly interesting to us. Unlike the MFHC word log, where we had a specific purpose when we were examining the ads for these particular words, this matrix began with a more open ended goal: to determine the boundaries for, and examine a cultural domain in Hampden County. We wanted to see what, if anything, appeared in the data, choosing to allow the matrix itself to be fluid, and present itself to us. As it was being created, it became clear the value this matrix would have in our discussions. We were intentionally not limiting our data to discriminatory language, or even language that might easily be categorized as non-discriminatory. Allowing ourselves the freedom from this structure, we used the freelist technique to elicit the cultural domain, and determine its boundaries (Borgatti, pp 120-125). Since we could potentially have an enormous amount of data to examine, we decided to determine the cultural domain boundary, somewhat arbitrarily, based on words that appeared in at least five ads. We determined that 39 of our 54 words fell into this category, representing approximately 72% of the words appearing on our original freelist. Examining this data further we see that the top six words or phrases in our matrix, in descending order, were: Bed, Rent Total, Bathroom, City, Photo, Contact Telephone. These top six appeared in over 80% of the ads. The top three words appeared in over 90% of the ads. Our top word appeared in 100% of the ads (Figure 3). Looking at the data in this simple way, we might say that the cultural domain boundary we established, answered the question ‘Things people in Hampden county want to see in ads for housing.’ However, as we learned, “ Although the main purpose of the freelisting exercise is to obtain the membership list for a domain, the lists can also be used as ends in


Hampden 2016 15 themselves” (Borgatti, 126). As well, “the number of items in an individual’s freelist is interesting in itself” (Borgatti, 127). Certainly, we find this to be the case, especially in light of our discussion regarding more subtle ways listing agents exclude or discriminate against low-income people searching for housing. In fact some of the most interesting data to include for this discussion comes not from the words in our matrix that appear with the most frequency, but rather from the words that appear with the least frequency. We found that 15 of the total 54 words in our matrix, or approximately 27%, appeared in four or less ads. We found that 10 of the total 54 words in our matrix, or approximately 18%, appeared in three or less ads. Finally, we found that four of the 54 words in our matrix, or approximately 7% appeared in only one or less ads. Certainly, after analyzing in this way, it could be argued that these words simply shouldn’t be included in the cultural domain we are studying. One could even argue that instead, they belong in their own cultural domain, perhaps aptly titled, “Things people in Hampden County do not want to see in advertisements for housing.” However, rather than defining another cultural domain, we instead chose to analyze some of these particular words and phrases in light of the issue we are discussing, relating to the subtle ways people are excluded in the housing search process. “Equal Opportunity Housing” only appears in three ads. “Section 8” and “Service Animal” each only appear in one ad, and Section 8 is mentioned only in reference to the ad itself, from ‘GoSection8.com’ (Hampden12-16). One might hope that inclusive, non-discriminatory advertising, would be prone to using these words and phrases more frequently. Thus, by not choosing these words and phrases with frequency, we are able to see another inconspicuous way people with low-income housing, and/or people with disabilities are being excluded during their search for housing. This data is very important for future examination of advertisements, since it highlights potential areas in which education might help create a more inclusive atmosphere for all who search for housing.


Hampden 2016 16 Column1 Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Ham Totals Bed 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 41 Rent Total 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 40 Bathroom 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 37 City 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 34 Photos 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 34 Contact Telephone 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 33 Street Address 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 29 Laundry 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 27 Apartment 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 26 Parking 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 26 Description Details 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 26 Property Management 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 24 Security Deposit 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 23 Appliances 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 21 Cats Ok 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 20 Convenient 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 19 Square Feet 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 18 Lease Terms 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 17 Contact Name 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 17 Storage 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 14 Renovated 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 13 Hot Water Included 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 12 Credit Check 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 11 NO Pets 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 11 Landscaped Grounds 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 9 No Smoking 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 9 Air Conditioning 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 9 Townhome 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 7 Heat Included 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 7 Quiet 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 7 Dogs Ok 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 Utilities 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 Application Fee 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 Basement 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 Beautiful 1 1 1 1 1 5 Trash Removal 1 1 1 1 1 5 Evictions/Rental History 1 1 1 1 1 5 Clean 1 1 1 1 1 5 Home 1 1 1 1 4 $$ Off Deal 1 1 1 1 4 Pool 1 1 1 1 4 Income Requirements 1 1 1 1 4 Convictions 1 1 1 1 4 Condo 1 1 1 3 Internet 1 1 1 3 Equal Opportunity Housing 1 1 1 3 Garage 1 1 1 3 Owner/Landlord 1 1 2 Employment History 1 1 2 High Efficiency 1 1 Section 8 1 1 Service Animal 1 1 Lock Change Charge 0

Figure 3. Co-Occurrence Matrix


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3.2

17

Call Logs

Analysis of the responses given before and after the Section 8 question reveals a clear difference in the frequency of different types of information discussed, likely indicating that the topic of Section 8 is a determining factor in the questions that property owners and managers have for testers. For instance, there is a much greater frequency of “pre-screening surveys, and mentioning of application fees� directly after the Section 8 question, whereas the topic itself is not mentioned all before the Section 8 question. While the intentions and motives behind these responses cannot be determined, it is important to mention that pre-screening surveys and applications are both of an evaluative and financial nature. This is particularly significant to Section 8 voucher holders because they typically do not have the financial means to budget in the costs associated with multiple pre-application fees. Additionally, pre-screening can oftentimes be time consuming, and creates an additional set of requirements that need to be met for an applicant to be considered. In terms of housing discrimination, Section 8 voucher holders are already burdened with a variety of similar forms, requirements and applications in order to receive federal funding to begin with—a process which is not only time consuming and difficult, but one that often times removes applicants from the consideration pool completely. It is possible that the additional requirement of pre-screening surveys and pre-applications given by property owners and managers are a means to deter potential Section 8 voucher holders from pursuing residence. Regardless of motive, we can conclude that the addition of pre-screening surveys, and pre-application forms and fees diminish the accessibility of homes to voucher holders. There is also a greater frequency of mentioning credit checks and background/CORI checks directly after testers ask about Section 8. Attitude changes were also recorded by testers, and we found approximately 7% of owners and managers had a significant change in attitude following the Section 8 question, and 14% had an intermediate change in attitude. Overall, 79% of property owners and managers remained neutral after they were asked about Section 8. Additional difficulty can be found in the ratio of calls answered or returned to those made, whereas only 41% of the total amount of calls made resulted in a conversation with a property owner or manager. This rate of successful calls made creates a drastic amount of additional time and resources required to pursue a home, which further reduces the overall availability to potential renters.


Hampden 2016 18 We also analyzed the percentage of calls made to properties that had rent above the Fair Market Rent (FMR), which a Section 8 voucher holder would not qualify for. The FY2017 FMR in Hampden County is $1,052. We found that 22% of our completed calls were made to listings that were above the Hampden county FMR, totaling nine calls. Of these nine calls, two Agency clerks stated that the rental price is above the FMR in response to the ‘Section 8 Question’, indicating that, regardless of intention, a small number of these listings are aware that Section 8 vouchers do not qualify for the property. However, both of this listings did in fact indicate that they otherwise accept Section 8 vouchers. The majority of these calls were perceived as “friendly” or “polite and business-like”. There is no statistical difference in demeanor, or the questions asked during the calls made to properties above FMR than any of the other properties. This data was particularly important to analyze due to the possibility that property owners are selling rooms at prices just above FMR in order to legally avoid housing Section 8 voucher holders. While it is possible that these nine listings are purposefully avoiding housing Section 8 voucher holders through FMR laws, there is no possible way to conclude this with our data. It should be noted for future studies that more conclusive evidence could be reached by analyzing the change in price of each property each year, and the amount over FMR, versus the average inflation of property value in that area. With a longitudinal approach, it may be possible to discover trends where property owners are purposefully pricing rooms over FMR regardless of local property value fluctuation. In this section, we have found that there is no conclusion as to whether or not property owners are avoiding Section 8 vouchers through FMR pricing. It is important to note, however, that close to 1/4th of the properties we got in touch with were not accessible to Section 8 voucher holders due to pricing.


Hampden 2016

Figure 4. Percentage of Calls Made to Listings Above FMR vs. Below FMR

Figure 5. Frequency of Status Person

19


Hampden 2016

Figure 6. Responses Before Asking About Section 8

Figure 7. Responses Directly After Asking About Section 8

20


Hampden 2016

Figure 8. Percentage of Calls Answered/Returned

Figure 9. Percentages of Changes in Attitude After Section 8 Question

21


Hampden 2016

Figure 10. Percentage of Background Check/CORI Responses

Figure 11. Number of Calls by Town

22


Hampden 2016 3.3

23

Rental Application Process

As we began our analysis of ads, call logs, written narratives documenting our calls, and written reflections about the calls, it became more and more apparent that the housing market has been quietly operating legal procedures that may be having as much of an exclusionary effect against lower income wage earners as would a blatantly discriminatory rejection of a Section 8 housing voucher. We found five categories that, when combined, may be effectively weeding out low income wage earners by acting to constrain choices: rental applications, application fees and agency fees, cash required at move-in, proof of income, and background checks. 3.3.1. Rental Applications Our group’s sense that more and more rentals these days appear to be available only through rental agencies is borne out by a statement in a recent online article from U.S. News and World Report, Real Estate section (2016) that asserts “Renting is increasingly becoming more automated as property managers and landlords embrace systems and software that allow renters to apply for an apartment, sign a lease, pay rent and even submit maintenance requests online.� We also were aware of a number of ads/agencies requiring requiring applications before an apartment is even shown, although we did not keep track of the instances that this applied. Our group looked and 41 housing ads and completed calls to 29 of the ads. Out of all our calls, in only nine instances were applications required before viewing the rental, however, we do not believe this is an accurate reflection of the true proportion of rental ads requiring applications. This is because our group self-selected out of answering any rental ads that required up front, on-line applications where it was necessary to complete the application before even getting a phone number to call. Unfortunately we did not track the number of ads that we saw having this requirement, largely because it was only after we started our analysis that it became apparent that these up front applications could be having a potentially exclusionary effect. The two most obvious ways would be: 1) an individual would have to have ready access to a computer with internet connection in order to answer the ad, and 2) it is possible that many individuals, regardless of background, would be hesitant to provide potentially sensitive, personal information (current address, employment information, income levels, and so on) to an unknown entity just for purposes of making an inquiry. The U.S. News and World Report Real Estate article (2016) confirms that providing this level of personal information is a valid concern for renters and may pose a


Hampden 2016 24 monetary risk due to the prevalence of online scammers; specifically, there is no way to tell if an application is going to a legitimate source. For our group, the latter case (giving out personal information) applied, but for individuals who are struggling to make ends meet, in addition to the issue of giving out personal information, a lack of internet access would certainly reduce the number of ads to which they could readily respond. 3.3.2. Application Fees and Agency Fees Many of the ads requiring the on line applications also often required fees of $25-35 per adult applicant. Again, we did not keep record of this, but we believe that the nine ads we responded to that had this requirement does not well reflect the overall proportion of rentals that do. Likewise, our calls do not provide an accurate representation of rental ads we noticed that required payment of an agency fee upon acceptance of a rental agreement- our group had only one call where an agent fee would be required. One of the highest fees observed was an amount equivalent to 60 percent of the first month’s rent. Here again, a potential implication of requiring application fees and agency fees is that it lends itself to weeding out those with lesser degrees of disposable income. 3.3.3. Cash at Move-In A standard requirement for rental units is that first and last months’ rent be paid at move-in, in addition to a security deposit that is often the equivalent of one month’s rent. We found that 90 percent of our ads required either a security deposit or both security and last month’s rent along with the first month’s rent; 47 percent required only the addition of a security deposit and 43 percent required both last and security. 3.3.4. Proof of Income and References. We also found that proof of income was required in 43 percent of our calls, and in several cases it was verbally stated that it must be proof of income equaling three times the monthly rent, or two times the monthly rent with a Section 8 voucher. Requirements for proof could be two months’ worth of pay stubs or, in one case, proof of one year of employment. References were less often asked for, but were required in 23 percent of our inquiries. 3.3.5. Background and Credit Checks The final major category of rental procedure requirements concerns various types of background records checks, including credit checks, general background check, and Criminal Offender


Hampden 2016 Record Information, or CORI checks. Credit checks are of two types- “hard” inquiries that

25

specifically request an applicant’s credit score, and “soft” inquiries that simply check for outstanding debt. Most rental application checks are hard inquiries which will often count against the applicant’s credit score, especially if more than one inquiry is made over a short period of time. 3.3.6. Verbal Requirements versus Published Requirements An interesting breakout of rental requirements is whether they were stated up front in the published ad or whether they were only verbally stated during the inquiry phone call. We found that of the 63 percent of the requests for security deposits were published in the rental ad and 92 percent of requests for last month’s rent were published. However, when it comes to the requirement for credit checks, 68 percent are verbally stated and only 31 percent are published. Background/CORI checks were required almost exclusively verbally- 13 out of 14 requests were made verbally only. Likewise, requirements for proof of income were required only verbally 77 percent of the time. Figure 12 provides the breakout of requirements by verbal request, published request, or both.

Figure 12. Verbal Requirements vs. Published Requirements


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3.3.7 Putting it All Together In Reverse Selection: Landlords and the Sorting of HVC Renters (Rosen, 2015) the author argues that landlord practices combine with structural forces to create an unequal distribution of renters across any given area. In the Poverty & Race Research Action Council publication Constraining Choice: The Role of Online Apartment Listing Services in the Housing Choice Voucher Program (2015) the question is posed as to whether the housing websites are providing a full range of options, and then demonstrates that stated acceptance (in ads) of Section 8 results in clustering of Section 8 listings in high poverty, high minority populated areas. We think the results of our analysis makes a plausible argument that the entire rental application process in Massachusetts works to create up front exclusion. In an effort to show how this might play out, we created a scenario for our assigned applicant who, together with his/her spouse, looked at four apartments before deciding on Hampden5-16. If they are fortunate enough to qualify and get accepted at Hampden5-16, between the agency fee and the requirement for first, last and security, they would have expended a move in cash amount of $3,060 just for a two bedroom rental at the low end rent of $850 per month. Although the Hampden5-16 call log does not reflect what the application fee actually was, for this example we used a 60% agency fee (an amount remembered from searching for ads). Table 2 provides a breakdown of the total costs. Table 2. Total Costs by Move-in Date Requirement

Cost

Application plus $25.00 application fee (wife) x 4 applications

$100.00

Application plus $25.00 application fee (husband) x 4 applications

$100.00

Agency fee of 60% one month’s rent

$510.00

First month rent

$850.00

Last month rent

$850.00

Security deposit

$850.00

Total

$3260.00


Hampden 2016 27 In addition, with their Section 8 voucher our family would need to provide proof of income at least two times the rent, $1,700. According to the assigned profile, our applicant makes $1100 per month and the spouse does not work. This means that given the requirements of Hampden5-16, our applicant would not qualify. In fact, just on the requirement of proof of income two times the monthly rent, our applicant would not qualify for any of the ads. He/she never even has to suffer Section 8 discrimination; the legal requirements have already done the job. 3.4

Narratives and Reflections

In each phone call, testers were instructed to assume a passive role and allow the agents to lead the conversation. The purpose of this instruction was to neither lead nor provoke the agents into making inflammatory statements or taking other discriminatory actions. As a result, the narratives for these calls do not have a set structure. What unites all of these calls together, however, is that each tester was required to ask the agent if a Section 8 voucher was accepted for the apartment they were calling about at some point during call. The response to this question, therefore, is recorded in all narratives and reacted to in all reflections and becomes a common thread that ties together the experience of searching for housing in Hampden County. The above may seem like a self-evident point: as long as the tester is told Section 8 is accepted is it not safe to assume that no discrimination is occurring based on voucher status? The narratives do tell us that Section 8 was accepted in 26 of the 29 logged narratives, but these narratives require more scrutiny because they provide insight into the application process and expand upon the concerns such as those raised in the prior section about the disparate impact of fees. In other words, these narratives show us that even though Section 8 is widely accepted in Hampden County the rental market is still stacked against potential voucher holders. Through a cataloging of the narratives we find multiple instances of policies and requirements that either have a disparate impact on Section 8 tenants or are formulated (accidentally or otherwise) to specifically disadvantage Section 8 renters through disparate treatment. The analysis was done by first scanning the phone log to find all test calls in which it was noted that discussion about a certain subject occurred after Section 8 was mentioned. The test numbers for these calls were used to construct a matrix that allowed the comparison of discussion topics across all the narratives for these calls, and whether the discussion subject was new information


Hampden 2016 28 given after Section 8 was mentioned, or if it was repetition of information already given by the agent either during the phone call or of information placed in the ad. Though repeated information was not discounted, it was catalogued in that way to better understand if it was information that all renters, regardless of voucher status, could expect to hear. Table 3 on the following two pages shows this matrix. From that point, the information in the narratives was cross referenced with the reflections from the same test, looking for emotional reactions of the testers that corresponded with being told certain pieces of information. The goal was to understand not only what testers felt was discriminatory, but to also understand what elicited negative emotional reactions and was signs of micro-aggressions. To begin presenting these results, it is easiest to first look at the three instances (out of 29 calls) where Section 8 was not definitely accepted. In two of these cases (Hampden25-16, Hampden3516) testers were told by the agents that they simply did not know if Section 8 was accepted or not, and in the third case (Hampden15-16) the tester was informed that the agent “sometimes” accepted Section 8 but that the rent for the particular unit was “too high”, which presumably meant it was over the FMR. The stated rent for the apartment was $1,025, above the Hampden County FMR of $1,001 set by HUD for FY2016 but below the FMR of $1,052 for FY2017 (HUD, 2016), which had just only just begun a few weeks before this call was made on November 14th. The burden is therefore on the prospective tenant to ensure that the agent knows the regulations of Section 8 and how to work with it. These “indeterminate” responses easily turn into “no”s if the tenant does not have the bandwidth to educate a possible landlord as well as assume all the other normal responsibilities of searching for housing as a tenant. This is reflected in the responses of the testers for these specific calls, who state feelings of confusion and annoyance as well as unwillingness to pursue the further rental process with these agents if they were truly searching for an apartment.


Hampden 2016 Table 3. After Section 8 Question Matrix

29


Hampden 2016

30


Hampden 2016 31 It is also worth noting that this same experience of the tester needing to educate the agent about the rules of Section 8 occurred even in one case where the tester was told the vouchers were accepted. In this one instance (Hampden24-16), the tester was told that the agency rents to tenants with Section 8 vouchers but the specific listing the tester enquired about was over the Fair Market Rent and it was illegal for the tenant to make up the difference. This information flies directly in the face of Section 8 policy as spelled out by the State of Massachusetts, which states: “[by] law, whenever a family moves to a new unit where the rent exceeds the payment standard [the FMR], the family may not pay more than 40 percent of its adjusted monthly income for rent” (“About Section 8”, 2009). The tester was not asked what their income was, and therefore the agent had no way of knowing if the tester would exceed the 40% limit set by the state, thus meaning the tester was fed false information. Again, the tester reported feeling disgusted and discouraged from pursuing the listing and the agent (whether deliberately or otherwise) disqualified a tenant that may very well have been able to use their voucher on this apartment. Issues of potential discrimination carried over into all cases, including those where Section 8 was accepted. We can see this by first examining if further requirements were asked of testers after bringing up Section 8, and in 14 cases testers found they were asked to provide at least one other rental requirement, almost always a minimum of a credit check, as shown in Table 4. This table is a redux of Figure 12 from the previous section, except expanded to reference specific cases and to look at data only after Section 8 was mentioned. Though these requirements such as credit and background checks are perfectly legal and are common parts of the rental process, they often come up as surprises for the testers. When we cross-reference Table 4 with Table 3 we see that none of the information from the former table was presented in apartment ads, and none of it was mentioned before Section 8, in essence leaving testers in the dark until the vouchers are mentioned. This is backed up by the general findings Figure 12, which shows that most rental requirements are mentioned verbally but not in apartment ads.


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Table 4. Requirements Mentioned After Section 8 Question

The data from the reflections raises questions as to whether if these last-second, post-Section-8mentioned requirements are being used in discriminatory ways. In the case of Hampden20-16, for instance, the prevalence of multiple application fees mentioned after Section 8 made the tester feel certain that the apartment could not be afforded by anyone with a voucher and thus were discouraged from the listing. The fees mentioned disadvantage low-income people especially, such as voucher holders, and disproportionately prevent these people from renting an apartment such as this one. In Hampden35-16, the near-ubiquitous credit check became an issue; the agent repeatedly asserted its importance and the tester felt they were being labelled as “unreliable” and felt “defensive” and “demoralized” by this accusation and felt unwelcome. A perfectly legal method of screening tenants was being used to antagonize the tester. In two final and particularly notable cases (Hampden18-16 and 38-16), testers were told they needed to fill out a special preapproval screening application for voucher holders just to move forward with the application process. The tester in Hampden18-16, for instance, could not even set up a viewing appointment without first passing this pre-approval screening and felt “irritated” and “well past discouraged”. Similarly in Hampden38-16, the tester felt put in a “discomfort zone” by this screening. These cases all warrant follow-ups, as they suggest that these requirements are being used either as micro-aggressions or to create discrimination through disparate impact or disparate treatment.


Hampden 2016 An additional case worth mentioning that fell outside of the above analysis (because of when

33

Section 8 was mentioned) is Hampden12-16. In this case, before bringing up Section 8 the tester was informed in rapid succession that the any potential tenant would need a security deposit, pass a credit and background check, as well as show a birth certificate and driver’s license to prove identity, as well as show 8 consecutive pay stubs to prove income before being told that Section 8 was accepted with no issue. The tester noted that this felt “exclusionary and discouraging” (Hampden12-16) and wondered if an attempt was being made to sort tenants into an “desirable” category of people who were able to meet these constraints, and a “undesirable” category who wouldn’t be able to and thus did not deserve a fair shot at renting an apartment. The tester felt concerned that this listing was rigged from the start and thus was “daunted” by this call. Again we see rental requirements being used as micro-aggressions to possibly weed out certain people. 3.5

Policy Map Observations

The color-coded point data on the map indicate whether each address accepts Section 8 Housing. As indicated by the calls, most of the apartments in Hampden County accept Section 8 vouchers. Three apartments are listed as “indeterminate” as to whether they accept Section 8. They are located in Springfield, Westfield, and Palmer. We were interested in determining which census tracts in the county contained the highest percentage of affordable housing (for 3-person households who earned 50% of the median income in 2014).


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Figure 13: Springfield Affordable Housing Percentages

Figure 14: Holyoke Affordable Housing Percentages

According to PolicyMap, much of the housing available is located in areas with low high school graduation rates. Furthermore, the poorest sections of Holyoke and Springfield contain the highest percentages of populations who did not graduate high school (12.96% or more). These statistics might reflect the poor quality of the schools in these neighborhoods. In addition to contending with the up-front costs associated with moving into a new apartment, prospective tenants may reside in areas with poor schools for their children. This can be especially frustrating because families whose mental bandwidths are already stretched incredibly thin due to lack of resources have even more issues piled onto their already-full plates.


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3.5.1 Poverty Table 5. Percentage of Population Living in Poverty Hampden County Massachusetts United States 17.7

11.5

13.5

Source: Current Population Survey(CPS); (ACS), one-year estimates; County level - The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE), one-year estimates

As Table 5 shows, the percentage of all persons who live in poverty in Hampden County is higher than both the national and state rates. Several sections of Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee, have poverty rates of 26% or more. This strongly indicates that people who live in these areas would be highly unlikely to be able afford some of the up-front costs that many apartment agencies impose, such as application fees and security deposits. The high cost of housing, plus the up-front costs needed to move in are likely to prevent many families from being able to afford to move to towns that have high-quality schools, access to jobs, and low crime rates. The high concentrations of poverty indicate that people are confined to areas that have multiple problems. The map below shows the percentages of people living in poverty

Figure 15. Poverty in Springfield


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3.4.2 Race As depicted by PolicyMap, many of the listed apartments we examined are located in places with high percentage of non-white populations. In particular, Springfield contains many census tracts such as Upper Hill and Forest Park whose population is more than 44.98% non-white. These places that are rich in minority populations correspond significantly to census tracts with high concentrations of poverty.

Figure 16. Non-white Populations in Springfield

The vast majority of the apartments our group found (roughly 90%) were located in urban areas such as Springfield and the towns surrounding it. In addition, many of these apartments are located in regions whose populations are ethnically diverse and poor. It seems telling that most of the ads that were listed on websites such as Craigslist and Zillow were for apartments that were situated in areas that contained people representing these demographic categories. Upon examining the data and trends from our phone calls as well as PolicyMap, it appears that real estate agencies and landlords are keen to lure in prospective tenants with ads that purposefully fail to mention roadblocks such as application fees and security deposits that our team has encountered during our phone calls. All of these various payments seem to be a way of allowing for landlords to unjustifiably bar tenants based on their race. The fact that many of these apartments are located in ethnically diverse regions strongly suggests that renters believe that somebody’s race affects their likelihood to commit crimes.


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3.4.3 Highways and Rivers as Barriers The Springfield Metro Area is bisected by a network of Interstate highways. While these arteries are crucial for transporting people and goods, they can also form barriers that separate neighborhoods. In particular, low-income populations might be funneled onto one side of the highway, separated from their more affluent counterparts. In particular, sections of Holyoke are divided by Interstate 91. As Figure 17 displays, sections of Holyoke such as Springdale and Ingleside are situated on the eastern side of I-91. These sections of town have a high concentration of poverty (between 16.62% and 26.38%). These areas abut the downtown area, whose poverty rate is even higher (more than 26.39%) However, the area of town immediately west of the interstate has a much lower rate (less than 6%). The phenomenon of highways creating boundaries between neighborhoods based on race and class is the same concept of people living on the ‘wrong side of the tracks.’ The division of neighborhoods is a legacy of sundown towns. “Sundown Towns” by James E. Loewen, mentions how, prior to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many cities permitted African-Americans to live there, but segregated them to the ‘wrong side of the tracks’. In addition, many hotels and restaurants would not serve these populations. While the formal segregation might be a thing of the past, the presence of highways continues to informally segregate based on race and income. Furthermore, the presence of highways may restrict access to amenities such as schools, grocery stores, and other facilities that are vital to everyday life. This is especially problematic for households that do not own a personal vehicle.


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Figure 17. Barriers

4.0

CONCLUSION

Analysis of the responses given before and after the Section 8 question reveals a clear difference in the frequency of different types of information discussed, likely indicating that the topic of Section 8 is a determining factor in the questions that property owners and managers have for testers. For instance, there is a much greater frequency of “pre-screening surveys, and mentioning of application fees� directly after the Section 8 question, whereas the topic itself is not mentioned all before the Section 8 question. While the intentions and motives behind these responses cannot be determined, it is important to mention that pre-screening surveys and applications are both of an evaluative and financial nature. This is particularly significant to Section 8 voucher holders because they typically do not have the financial means to budget in the costs associated with multiple pre-application fees. Attitude changes were also recorded by testers, and we found approximately 7% of owners and managers had a significant change in attitude following the Section 8 question, and 14% had an


Hampden 2016 39 intermediate change in attitude. Overall, 79% of property owners and managers remained neutral after they were asked about Section 8. We also analyzed the percentage of calls made to properties that had rent above the Fair Market Rent (FMR), which a Section 8 voucher holder would not qualify for. The FY2017 FMR in Hampden County is $1,052. We found that 22% of our completed calls were made to listings that were above the Hampden county FMR, totaling nine calls. Of these nine calls, two Agency clerks stated that the rental price is above the FMR in response to the ‘Section 8 Question’, indicating that, regardless of intention, a small number of these listings are aware that Section 8 vouchers do not qualify for the property. However, both of this listings did in fact indicate that they otherwise accept Section 8 vouchers. This data was particularly important to analyze due to the possibility that property owners are selling rooms at prices just above FMR in order to legally avoid housing Section 8 voucher holders. While it is possible that these 9 listings are purposefully avoiding housing Section 8 voucher holders through FMR laws, there is no possible way to conclude this with our data. It should be noted for future studies that more conclusive evidence could be reached by analyzing the change in price of each property each year, and the amount over FMR, versus the average inflation of property value in that area. With a longitudinal approach, it may be possible to discover trends where property owners are purposefully pricing rooms over FMR regardless of local property value fluctuation. In this section, we have found that there is no conclusion as to whether or not property owners are avoiding Section 8 vouchers through FMR pricing. It is important to note, however, that close to 1/4th of the properties we got in touch with were not accessible to Section 8 voucher holders due to pricing. As we looked at our data we began to suspect that the rental application process was as effective a barrier at discouraging lower income wage earners as an out and out refusal of a Section 8 voucher would be. We found that the five primary categories in the rental application process likely provided a formidable barrier to low income wage earners, effectively constraining choices by making demands for rental applications, application fees and agency fees, first, last, and security deposits in an amount equivalent to three months’ rent, proof of income equal to or above two months’ rent, and credit background/criminal checks. The very magnitude of the requirements is daunting, and when combined would in fact excludes our “persona” applicant from 100 percent of the ads our group responded to.


Hampden 2016 40 Though Section 8 vouchers are widely accepted in Hampden County the search for housing is still extremely difficult. Testers were met by roadblocks from agents who don’t know about Section 8 or fed testers incorrect and discouraging information, as well facing disparate treatment in the form of pre-approval applications, as well as, finally, disparate impact from an exhaustive list of requirements that they may or may not be able to meet. In some instances this setbacks may be discrimination and warrant further investigation, but in many instances testers are confronted with completely legal processes that have disparate impact on them. We see these challenges in the housing search from the analysis of the narratives. Through cross-referencing with the reflections we see the negative effect this information has on testers and how it becomes interpreted as a micro-aggression. In Hampden County Section 8 voucher holders are facing legal but discouraging practices on top of discriminatory actions. Based on the visual and spatial information provided by PolicyMap about the Springfield Metropolitan Area, potentially exclusionary practices in housing is rampant. Many of the housing units that are requiring up-front costs such as application fees and security deposits are located in neighborhoods that contain a high percentage of people who live in poverty. In addition, the addresses for the calls made are located in sections of Hampden County with a variety of minority populations. This correlation between address location and the imposition of up-front costs to prospective tenants could indicate systematic exclusion. It appears that housing agencies and landlords may be using these methods of exclusion to weed out undesired tenants. While Section 8 has been accepted for most of the calls, many of the agents mentioned credit history checks and security deposits after saying “yes” to Section 8. The acceptance of Section 8 belies the other exclusion that takes place. In a way, abiding by the law might pave the way for these other legal measures. Many of the locations in question are located in neighborhoods with large numbers of affordable housing units available (for people whose income is 50% of the national median). The presence of affordable housing might indicate a desire to weed out residents that could be perceived as undesirable tenants. Overall, the ads did not, in and of themselves, highlight any concerning discriminatory language. No ads specifically stated that Section 8 would not be accepted, nor did any ads have any blatantly discriminatory language. A few ads did mention no pets, and/or no dogs would be


Hampden 2016 41 allowed, but some of those ads contained language indicating there would likely be an exception for service animals, though a further call would be in order to know with certainty. In light of that information, it is almost more important to our discussion, therefore, to highlight instead the disturbing fact that only one ad, of the 41 ads we examined, even specifically mentioned Section 8 at all. This is clearly more evidence that underlying, legal behaviors of landlords, management companies, and listing agents in general, add to the exclusionary effects on people with low income, and even people with disabilities, as it pertains to the search for housing. It is not simply the use of non-discriminatory language we should be concerned with, but also the encouragement, and/or requirement of more specifically inclusive language. It is an unnecessary burden for people searching for housing to have to wonder, or take extra steps to find out if they would be able to use a Section 8 voucher. As well, it should not be acceptable for listing agents to exclude people who may require service animals, by implying they won’t be welcome through the use of the phrase ‘no pets,’ The omission of the phrase ‘Section 8’ in all but one of our 41 ads is an astounding fact, particularly when we realized that this mention was only in reference to the ad itself, for ‘GoSection8.com.’ This is the most interesting conclusion, perhaps because it speaks to the future, and what needs to be done in order for the search for housing to be a more inclusive, more conspicuous process for tenants of all income levels, abilities and walks of life.


Hampden 2016

42

REFERENCES About Section 8 (Housing Choice Vouchers). (2009, September). Retrieved from: www.mass.gov/hed/docs/dhcd/ph/rentalapplications/section8description.doc Loewen, James W. “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.” New York. The New Press. 2005. Print. Borgatti, Stephen P. “Elicitation Techniques for Cultural Domain Analysis.” 1992. In: Enhanced Ethnographic Methods, Audiovisual Techniques, Focused Group Interviews, and Elicitation Techniques. Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, 2009. Fair Housing Advertising PolicyMap. https://www.policymap.com/maps?i=9906904&btd=6&dlo=58233,58234,58235 &period=2014&cx=-72.57596697310393&cy=42.154681570687345&cz=10 Poverty & Race Research Action Council. 2015. Constraining Choice: The Role of Online Apartment Listing Services in the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Retrieved from http://www.prrac.org/pdf/ConstrainingChoice.pdf Rosen, Eva. 2015. Reverse Selection: Landlords and the Sorting of HVC Renters. In Poverty and Race, Vol. 24, No. 1, January/February 2015. Retrieved from http://www.prrac.org/newsletters/janfeb2015.pdf U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. American Fact Finder, Geographic Area Series: Economy-Wide Key Statistics: 2012. Retrieved from http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ECN_2012_U S_00A1&prodType=table U.S. Census Bureau. (2010). Quick Facts, Hampden County, Massachusetts. Accessed November 29, 2016, from: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/25013,00 United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2016). FY 2017 Fair Market Rent Documentation System. [Data File]. Retrieved from: https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/fmr/fmrs/FY2017_code/2017summary.odn Wikipedia. (November 6, 2016) Hampden County, Massachusetts, webpage. Accessed November 30, 2016, from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hampden_County,_Massachusetts

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