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Homebuyers and renters of color face unfair housing practices in Fairfax County, per report

A new report says housing providers are more likely to give white testers more information, respond more frequently to their messages and offer more favorable terms.

FAIRFAX, Va. — A recent report finds Black homebuyers and renters are treated less favorably compared to their white counterparts in Fairfax County. 

The Fairfax County Office of Human Rights partnered with the Equal Rights Center (ERC) to conduct 122 tests from June 2019 to March 2021 in rental, lending and sales housing markets. 

Housing providers were likely to give White renters and homebuyers more detailed information, respond more frequently to messages and offer more favorable terms than they are to minorities including members of the Black, Asian and Latinx communities, according to the report. 

"The numbers reported for the lending and sales markets were more troubling," the report said. "They clearly show that historical practices of segregating neighborhoods through steering or offering no or worse loans to Black individuals is still very much an issue today."

The report also said it was clear that certain housing providers lack the training to provide the same level of treatment to Deaf individuals as they do to hearing individuals. 

The county described the findings as "discernable differences," which included a leasing agent quoting the Black tester a higher rent amount than the white tester, a leasing agent telling the white tester the apartment they were viewing was available now, but told the Black tester it was not available until later, and a leasing agent telling the Black tester about more fees. 

Another example included a loan officer who gave a white consumer more coaching on the home-buying process or a loan without asking their income. The report also said an agent showed a white homebuyer more condo units, even if they were not in their price range.

"I would not expect that to happen today," Fairfax County Supervisor Rodney Lusk said. "This is 2020, and not 1960. We need to put the folks on notice. Folks who rent, lease, and sell and finance these types of units, to let them know we're watching."

The board called on the Office of Human Rights to analyze the fair housing enforcement program and enhance education and training. 

"It's something that is disappointing but we take that information to further target our outreach efforts and enforcement actions if any are deemed necessary," OHR Director Kenneth Saunders said. "Let them know what they should really check with respect to pricing and do their homework."

Saunders stressed that anyone can file a complaint if they feel they are being discriminated against. One approach is to better educate housing providers. 

"One of the things we will require is that they have education on fair housing laws so that's something they can make themselves avail to," Saunders said.

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