12 Facts about Housing discrimination in Chicago

A recent report released by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (CLC) has highlighted the extent of discrimination faced by low-income families who are trying to find an affordable home in Chicago with the help of Housing Choice Vouchers.

The CLC used testers of various racial and family backgrounds to expose Fair Housing Act violations by landlords who already lease to families with Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers, and by landlords in “Opportunity Areas” who do not already lease to Section 8 Voucher holders. The CHA defines “Opportunity Areas” as neighborhoods with less than 23.49 percent of residents below the poverty line and no more than 30 percent African-American. Most of these ares are on the North and Northwest sides of the city.

Map of Chicago’s community areas. North and Northwest side neighborhoods are predominantly white. “Opportunity Areas” are: Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Near North Side, North Center, Dunning, Edison Park, Forest Glen, Jefferson Park, North Park, Norwood Park, O’Hare, Portage Park, Loop, Hyde Park, Beverly, Clearing, Mount Greenwood, and West Lawn (The Chicago 77)

According to the City of Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance, landlords are not allowed to discriminate against potential renters based on their source of income. This rule was set up to allow families with vouchers greater opportunities to move to non-segregated, higher-income neighborhoods in the city.

The study was conducted by the CLC at the request of the Chicago Housing Authority.

Here are 12 facts about housing discrimination in Chicago based on their findings.

  1. STEERING — discouraging applicants from applying to live at certain properties — was the most common type of discrimination faced by test voucher holders, regardless of race, ethnic background, or family composition
  2. Landlords who already rent to households using vouchers, nevertheless discriminated against testers with vouchers 59% of the time.
  3. Agents for landlords who already rent to HCV households tended to steer tester applicants with vouchers toward “more diverse neighborhoods” like Albany Park and Rogers Park and away from tony Lincoln Park
  4. In 14% of test cases, landlords who already rent to HCV households refused to negotiate with voucher holders through such tactics as not answering phone calls after the testers revealed that they had vouchers. In 10% of cases these landlords refused to rent to the voucher holders altogether
  5. Landlords’ agents expressed racial biases against African-Americans in a variety of ways, For example:

    In one case, an agent asked a white voucher holder if she knew a particular building was in a predominantly African-American area and suggested that the white HCV holder drive around the neighborhood to make sure that she knew what she was getting into. In another test, an agent provided two white testers with four or five listings in Uptown and Lincoln Square, while he provided a single listing in Rogers Park to the African-American tester and stated there were not many vacancies. The agent in this test also stated a different term, a security deposit of a full month’s rent, to the African-American tester yet told the white testers that there was no security deposit, just a $300 move-in fee.

  6. Among testers of varying national origin, one in three Asian testers experienced discrimination by agents who already leased to HCV families – more than Latinos or the white control group.
  7. Landlords on Opportunity Areas who didn’t already rent to HCV households discriminated against testers with vouchers 55% of the time. In 39% of the tests, landlords directly refused to rent to voucher holders, in violation of the city’s Fair Housing Ordinance
  8. Reasons given by Opportunity Area landlords for not renting toHCV applicants included:

    [We’re] not set up for that
    [It’s] too expensive to go through all the kinds of stuff they require
    I don’t know what that is
    Condo association has lots of rules and ‘no vouchers’ is one of them
    I don’t want to go through all the red tape with the city

  9. African-American HCV holders faced higher levels of discrimination in all areas of the city except the Loop and Hyde Park
  10. In Lincoln Park and North Center, one out of three landlords who agreed to rent to white HCV holders refused to rent to their African-American counterparts
  11. In Chicago’s northwest side neighborhoods African-American voucher holders face the greatest rate of discrimination – 58% of test cases were refused. In Edison Park, Portage Park and Dunning, African-American HCV holders experienced discrimination 100% of the time.
  12. A survey administered by the CLC to current CHA public housing residents and HCV households reveled that the majority of respondents do not have a full understanding of their fair housing rights

Find out more about the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s work here, and hear more accounts of discrimination experienced by voucher families here.


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