Audit finds income, racial discrimination in Memphis area rental market

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 10:53 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s a new push to address housing discrimination, a problem one recent audit found runs rampant in Memphis and Shelby County.

The 75-page study, entitled “The Bad Housing Blues: Discrimination in the Housing Choice Voucher Program in Memphis, TN,” was conducted by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Thurgood Marshall Institute and the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Together, they found discriminatory practices in the city and county’s rental market from discrimination in customer service, pricing, availability, access to housing, and more.

Just three years ago, almost 8,000 households in Memphis were using the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HVC), but the audit found widespread income and some racial discrimination within that program.

“We still do understand that discrimination in housing still exists, segregation still exists and that the federal government has been a part of that,” said Marcia Fudge, secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The audit studied policies and practices in our local rental market from 2019 to 2021 to find out what prevents people from finding housing using Section 8 vouchers.

The organizations behind the audit deployed testers, Black and white, each claiming similar incomes and seeking housing information.

The audit consisted of five phases of testing, using trained and experienced testers.

The focus of Phase Two assessed if housing providers treat Black HCV recipients and white HCV recipients the same. 32 tests were conducted, 16 in Memphis and 16 in the greater Shelby County area.

In this phase, 27 tests, or 84.4%, showed evidence of discrimination based on source of income. 75% showed income discrimination in Memphis, and almost 94% showed the same outside city limits.

Out of 16 matched-pair tests between Black and white female testers, six tests, or 37.5%, showed evidence of racial discrimination in the entire study area.

The housing providers for three of these tests were in the City of Memphis and three were located outside city limits.

During one test, the Black tester was told that units would not be available until two weeks after her desired move-in date, but the white tester was given information about units that were available during her move-in time frame, which was the same time the Black tester had requested.

In another test, a white tester was told they needed a credit score of 580 to qualify for a single-family home, and the Black tester was told they needed a score of 600.

HUD Secretary Fudge tells Action News 5 she’s pushing for a rule revival that would help communities like ours make sure finding housing is fair.

“This rule is going to look at how we address housing, writ large throughout this entire country, and I’m hopeful people will take advantage of the opportunity to let their voices be heard by responding or giving me a comment on this rule,” said Secretary Fudge.

Those behind the audit recommend amending the Fair Housing Act of 1968 to include source of income as protected class, expanding the voucher program, and more.

Action News 5 reached out to both Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland about this audit. We have not heard back.

You can read the full audit here.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter!

Click here to report a spelling or grammar error. Please include the headline.