The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center was established in 1995 to eradicate housing discrimination in the Greater New Orleans area through education, investigation and enforcement. The Center is dedicated to fighting housing discrimination not only because it is illegal, but also because it is a divisive force that perpetuates poverty, segregation, ignorance, fear and hatred.
“So has anyone heard of steering?” asks Renee Corrigan at a first-time home buyers class she is teaching.
“It’s when they steer you toward something they say you should have, in opposition to what you tell them you want,” offers a class participant.
“Yeah, absolutely,” replies Corrigan. “It’s just like it sounds. You’re being steered to one set of options or opportunities and not another. There was a national fair housing study that found that 87 percent of time, real estate professionals engage in steering. Do you think there’s necessarily an intent to discriminate?”
“Yeah, cause they’re trying to tell you how to spend your money,” offers another participant.
“Often there may be an intent,” affirms Corrigan. “Sometimes, you know, it’s the job of the realtor to kind of guess what you want and make you happy. They want to find a home they think is perfect for you.” But, says Corrigan: “Even if there’s good intentions behind it, if that realtor is making assumptions, then that limits your choices and may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
The Fair Housing Act is front and center at every class for first time home buyers given by the New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.
“We do a pretty detailed and thorough comprehensive review of the Fair Housing Act so people can understand the ways in which the Fair Housing laws apply to them and the way that they apply to their journey to becoming home owners,” says Cashauna Hill, the Executive Director of the New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, whose mission is to eradicate housing discrimination.
“Also, want to make sure people know what housing discrimination looks like, so in the event that they encounter any discrimination during the purchasing process – whether it’s through the sales, or the insurance, or the lending process -- they know they have a resource in us and can reach out for help.”
Back in class, Corrigan passed around fair housing booklets. “If you can take one and send them around,” she asks.
Corrigan makes sure her potential home buyers understand what exactly is protected under the 1968 federal Fair Housing Act. Those protected classes include race, color, and national origin. But in spite of this national law, which is almost 50 years old, housing discrimination happens all the time. Which is why the New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center also has an enforcement team.
“We conduct investigations through testing,” says Hill. “We go out into the community to determine whether and where discrimination is actually happening in the market.”
These investigations usually start with a phone call.
Hill gives an example of a typical call the Fair Housing Action Center receives: “Hi. I’m calling because I saw an add on Craigslist, I called the property manager. I was told the apartment was no longer available. And then, something didn’t quite feel right about it. I had a white friend call, and they were told that the property was still available.”
“So then,” says Hill, “what we would do is conduct an investigation to determine whether or not racial discrimination is happening at that property.”
“We’ll send in the member of the protected class first,” explains Corrigan to her class. “See how they’re treated, and then we’ll send in the other person. And we’ll see --not just from one test, but from multiple tests over time -- if there really is a pattern of discriminatory behavior.”
In 2014, the Fair Housing Action Center conducted a study. They sent white and black testers with similar backgrounds, income levels, and credit scores into New Orleans’ most desirable neighborhoods to look for homes . They found that African American home seekers were discriminated against roughly half the time. That’s right. In 44 percent of their test cases, Black home seekers were getting worse treatment than non-Black home seekers.
Housing is the number one way wealth is built in this country. The Fair Housing Action Center wants to make sure that opportunity exists for everyone.