July 25, 2005.
Renters with disabilities in the Chicago area experience more housing discrimination than blacks or Latinos, according to a federal study that will be released Monday.
Half the time, potential renters who are deaf were treated worse than potential renters who could hear during an 18-month study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A quarter of the people reporting negative experiences never made it past the initial phone call, as landlords either hung up on or cut off operators who were assisting the callers.
In other cases, renters who were blind or had mobility problems weren't even allowed to visit vacant apartments.
The study, based on 100 different contacts between landlords and disabled "testers" working with researchers, "confirmed information that we've previously received in the form of complaints and unsubstantiated allegations across the country," said Floyd May, who oversees HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "We're not surprised by the findings."
In 2004, roughly 39 percent of the 9,100 complaints nationwide alleging housing discrimination came from people with mental or physical disabilities, officials said. Housing discrimination of any kind is a violation of federal fair housing laws and can be punishable by fines of several hundred thousand dollars, officials said.
HUD chose to test that trend in Chicago, not because the city is any worse than other metropolitan areas, but because the agency could work with a strong group of advocates here.
The study, which the Washington-based Urban Institute helped coordinate, illustrated landlord prejudice faced by renters with mental or physical disabilities through a variety of anecdotes in which disabled and non-disabled testers sought to rent the same units.
For example, one wheelchair user who showed up for an appointment to view an apartment was turned away when the landlady realized who her potential renter was.
When answering the door, the landlady "very abruptly stated, `No wheelchairs here. You can't come in,'" the unidentified tester said in the study. "She asked me twice, `Can you walk?' I told her no. She said, `No wheelchairs here. No way in. Apartment's too small.'"
Later that day, a non-disabled tester visited the property, took an elevator up to see three apartments and left with information about rents, security deposits and fees, the study states. In all, wheelchair users in the study were denied opportunities to inspect apartments 30 percent of the time.
Overall, wheelchair users had negative experiences 36 percent of the time, compared with 30 percent for Latinos and blacks in similar studies, the study said. At least a third of advertised rental properties in the Chicago area are not wheelchair accessible, the study found.
In another case, a blind tester who showed up to an appointment with a cane and guide dog reported that the landlord failed to answer the door. When the tester later phoned to find out what had happened, the landlord admitted that he was there, saw the tester and did not respond because dogs are not allowed in the building.
Disabled renters in Chicago who were told about the study said the stories ring true. Bruce Reynolds, 36, and Tania O'Neil, 36, of Chicago, who are engaged to be married, said they have been forced out of apartments twice because they are disabled.
Reynolds, who has cerebral palsy, uses two crutches to walk. O'Neil, because of congenital neurological conditions, often needs a cane. Reynolds said the couple were living in an apartment building on North Sheridan Road earlier this year when its owner learned about their disabilities and wanted to force them out.
"One day the owner came up to change a light bulb and batteries for our smoke alarm," Reynolds said. "Then he went downstairs and said to the manager, `Why are you renting to crippled people? They belong in a nursing home.'
"They didn't want to work to accommodate people with physical disabilities. And they didn't believe that we could care for ourselves."
Reynolds alleged that in an attempt to force him and O'Neil out, the owner had someone try to force entry through the couple's locked apartment door.
"They wanted to move our furniture out when we were gone," Reynolds said. "I heard the guy say, `Damn, they're always home.'"
In late May, Reynolds and O'Neil decided to move into Eden Supportive Living, 940 W. Gordon Terrace, which, according to building president Mitch Hamblet, is the first 100 percent accessible apartment building for disabled individuals in the country. Reynolds and O'Neil said they enjoy their new home but are still smarting from what happened at their old one.
"It made me feel small, to be honest with you," Reynolds said. "Very small."
Bryan Greene, director of policy in HUD's office of fair housing, acknowledged the cases of discrimination in the study aren't always clear-cut, particularly among those involving telephone devices for the hearing-impaired, where landlords who hung up on callers may have simply been annoyed or confused by the technology, which uses an operator to relay the typed messages of the caller.
Still, "you have people out there with the misperception that working with a telephone relay system or assisting a person with a disability is going to be overly complicated," which is itself a form of prejudice, Greene said.
Greene urged disabled renters who've been discriminated against to call the agency's hotline--(800) 669-9777--and said the study can be used as a guide to root out landlord discrimination against the disabled in other cities.
He said that HUD intends to use the study in Chicago to launch investigations against landlords who allegedly discriminated against the testers.
"Now that we know the persons who've engaged in discrimination, we'll be looking to follow up with enforcement," Greene said.
Source URL: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/northwest/chi-0507250092jul25,1,3712593.story?coll=chi-newslocalnorthwest-hed.
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