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Study uncovers rental discrimination

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - American Indians are more likely to be discriminated against when looking for rental housing in cities than any other group in America, a major new government study has found.

Nearly three in 10 Indian renters was discriminated against in a series of nearly 300 "paired tests" during which white and Indian prospective renters with approximately the same financial status asked about the same properties, according to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD's study showed Native renters were discriminated against 29 percent of the time. Previous studies of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders showed their rates to be 22 percent for blacks, 26 percent for Hispanics, and 21 percent for Asians.

The Washington D.C.-based Urban Institute did the research for HUD and results were reported here during the recent annual conference of the National Congress of American Indians by HUD Deputy Secretary Alfonso Jackson.

The study measured cities in Montana, Minnesota, and New Mexico. In New Mexico only, a study of home buying discrimination against Indians showed one in six Native buyers was discriminated against.

Jackson commented the study showed "we have more work to do and we must stay focused to end discrimination."

Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, in the foreword to the report, called the three-phase "Discrimination in Metropolitan Housing Markets" study "the most ambitious analysis of housing discrimination ever produced." Phase I studied African Americans and Hispanics; Phase II looked at discrimination against Asians and Pacific Islanders, including Native Hawaiians.

Martinez also said "White testers were significantly more often told an advertised unit was available, told about similar units, and told about more units than similarly qualified Native American testers inquiring about the same advertised unit."

And he concluded "the findings will enable HUD to devote more attention, including enforcement that penalizes illegal discrimination, to communities with significant Native American populations."

HUD this year will make $20.2 million in grants in its Fair Housing Initiative Program to help combat discrimination. The agency has also started an ad campaign promoting fair housing.

In the three states, Native discrimination levels came to 25.7 percent for New Mexico, 33.3 percent in Minnesota, and 28.6 percent in Montana. The New Mexico Indian homebuyer discrimination rate was 16.6 percent.

For rentals, "systematic discrimination was quite high in the area of being told about unit availability," HUD reported. Home buying saw "systematic discrimination occurring in the area of steering." "Steering" occurs "with more whites shown homes in neighborhoods that were more predominantly white."

Tribes studied in the three states included the Navajo and Pueblo tribes of New Mexico, the Crow and Blackfeet in Montana, and the Chippewa and Sioux in Minnesota.

Metropolitan areas tested were Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces in New Mexico, Billings, Great Falls and Missoula in Montana, and Minneapolis/St. Paul and Duluth in Minnesota. Almost 300 tests were done on rentals in the three states, and 100 more were done on homeownership units in New Mexico.

The state approach was used because "the population of American Indians living in metropolitan areas is quite highly concentrated in a few states. Therefore, national estimates of housing discrimination against American Indians might not be as useful for policy purposes as state estimates."

Fifty-one rental tests were done in Minnesota, 121 in Montana, and 125 in

New Mexico.

In New Mexico, 64 of the tests used Navajo people, 47 used Pueblo tribal members, and the rest were a smattering from the Zuni, Apache, Cheyenne/ Arapaho and Cherokee tribes. Percentages were similar for the homeowner tests.

In Montana, 74 tests were Crow, 34 Winnebago, 25 were Blackfeet, and seven Paiute. In Minnesota, most of the tests were done by Minnesota Chippewa.

The report describes an example of discrimination against an Indian woman in New Mexico this way: "In Albuquerque, a 21-year-old American Indian woman visited an apartment complex to inquire about the availability of an apartment for herself and her husband. She was looking for a two-bedroom apartment for between $725 and $775. She was told that the advertised unit was not available, and told about another possible unit she might consider. However, the rental agent was not able to show her any apartments.

"Later that day, a 24-year-old white woman visited the same complex, also inquiring about the availability of two-bedroom apartments in the same rent range. She met with the same agent, who told her that the advertised apartment was indeed available, as well as three other possible units, and gave her the opportunity to inspect one of these apartments to see whether she liked it."

Aggregating the three states, HUD found

*In 10.3 percent of the tests, American Indians were told that the advertised unit was no longer available, while their white partners were told that it was available.

*In 15.1 percent of the tests, only the white tester was told about the availability of units similar to the advertised unit.

*Whites were told about more available units than their Indian counterparts in 25.7 percent of tests.

*Whites were favored on housing availability in 30 percent of tests overall.