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[whitespace] No Kidding

Audit reveals discrimination against children

By Yosha Bourgea

AS IF FINDING an affordable rental wasn't hard enough already, the results of a recent audit indicate that families with children can expect to be the targets of illegal discrimination at a significant percentage of Sonoma County rental properties.

Fair Housing of Sonoma County, a joint project of Fair Housing of Marin and Sonoma County People for Economic Opportunity, announced recently the results of an audit conducted over several months late last year. During the audit, testers posing as families with and without children visited 10 separate sites (representing 900 units of housing) to gauge the reaction of landlords and property managers.

The conclusion? A family with children looking for rental housing in Sonoma County can expect to experience discrimination 20 percent of the time, or one in every five sites visited, and differential treatment 40 percent of the time, or in two of every five sites visited.

"Although 10 rental locations is not a large statistical sample, the audit indicates that illegal housing discrimination is occurring in Sonoma County and undoubtedly has been practiced for many years," says SCPEO Housing Director David Brigode.

Jane Shandler, program manager of Fair Housing of Sonoma County, says she believes the sample actually underestimates the amount of discrimination. The testers used in the audit fit middle-income profiles, Shandler says; for lower-income families, the reception may be even chillier.

In one scenario, the tester representing a single mother with a young child was prevented from renting the advertised unit, which was an upstairs apartment. The tester without children, who went to the apartment complex just after the first tester, was given an application for the vacant unit.

At another site, the tester with a child had to request an application and was not given specific dates the apartments would be available for occupancy, whereas the tester without a child was given an application and told the dates the apartments would be available.

Shandler says she's not particularly surprised by the results of the audit. But then, prior to last April, when FHSC opened, the county had no fair-housing agency. Since then, the organization has received 65 complaints of housing discrimination, of which one third were based on family status. "This shows us that housing providers really need to be educated," Shandler says. "You can't steer families with children to a certain part of the building."

The law that applies most frequently in these situations is the Fair Housing Amendment Act, also known as Title 8 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Many tenants--and landlords--are unaware that in 1988, the Civil Rights Act was amended to include families with children.

Victims of housing discrimination are encouraged to contact FHSC at 579-5033 for more information about their rights.

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From the January 27-February 2, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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