BY LOU CHIBBARO JR., WASHINGTON BLADE
A newly released study by the D.C.-based Urban Institute found that some landlords that were subjected to discrimination “testing” in the D.C. metropolitan area showed a bias against renting apartments to applicants who self-identified as transgender compared to applicants not identifying as transgender.
The study also conducted several hundred discrimination tests in the Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, areas in which testers posed as members of gay male, lesbian, and heterosexual couples. The findings from this part of the study show that some landlords displayed a bias against gay male applicants but appeared to treat lesbians and straight women the same.
The study’s lead author, Urban Institute researcher Diane K. Levy, told the Washington Blade that in the D.C. tests, 100 of the testers identified as transgender and 99 did not say anything about their gender identity and were presumed to be cisgender.
She said that in a carefully developed plan the people identifying as transgender applicants for renting an apartment disclosed their gender identity by telling the landlord or rental agent that the name they would be using for the application was different from their birth name because they were transgender and had yet to legally change their name.
The study reveals that in one out of every 5.6 test visits to a rental office, the rental agents or landlords offered to show a self-identified transgender applicant one fewer apartment than was shown to non-transgender applicants.
As part of the study, the testers identifying as trans and non-trans applicants said they were single with no children and had the same financial qualifications to rent an apartment.
The study’s findings are presented in a 297-page report called “A Paired-Testing Pilot Study of Housing Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples and Transgender Individuals.”
The report says the study arranged for “1,200 in-person tests split evenly between women and men posing as part of a same-sex couple” in the Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth areas where they showed up at a rental office to inquire about finding an apartment.
Rental agents or landlords “told gay men about one fewer available rental unit for every 4.2 tests than they told heterosexual men,” the reports states. “Providers were slightly less likely to schedule an appointment with gay men,” it says, adding, “The average yearly costs agents quoted gay men were $272 higher than the costs quoted to heterosexual men.”
Levy said the testers who self-identified as gay men or lesbians did so by telling the rental agent or landlord they were part of a same-sex couple.
According to the study, the landlords appeared to treat the testers self-identifying as members of a lesbian couple the same as they treated heterosexual women who said they were part of an opposite-sex couple by not displaying any difference in offering to show them an apartment available for rent.
When the lesbian and straight women testers were able to meet with a rental agent, “agents were slightly less likely to tell the lesbian testers that a unit was available,” the report says. But it says differences in the treatment between the two groups “generally are small and not statistically significant.”
The report makes it clear that the testing of possible discrimination by landlords and rental agents focused on the early stage of the rental process in which testers visited a rental office to inquire about the availability of an apartment or rental unit and sometimes were shown the units. But it did not involve the testers submitting an actual application since that, according to Levy, would likely involve a credit check and other background checks that could result in agents finding out the testers were not who they claimed to be for purposes of the test.
“Differential treatment matters,” Levy said in a statement accompanying the report. “When people are discriminated against in their housing searches, not only does it go against our collective value of equal opportunity, but it limits their options for where to live, which can affect how they get to work, the schools their children attend, and other facets of their daily lives,” she said.
Levy said that because the study was intended as a research project rather than a discrimination enforcement effort the Urban Institute will not disclose the identity of the landlords or rental agents found to show a bias against the gay or trans testers.
Douglas Wissoker, another of the report’s seven co-authors, said that although the number of instances in which a landlord or rental agent appeared to discriminate against the gay or transgender testers was relatively small, the numbers were statistically significant and clearly not due to chance.
Transgender rights advocate Dana Beyer, executive director of statewide group Gender Rights Maryland, said she was pleasantly surprised that the study found the degree of discrimination encountered by the transgender testers to be so small.
“Yes, trans people are treated worse, but not as badly as one would have imagined,” she said. “That’s one of the takeaways that there is some discrimination but it didn’t seem to be nearly as bad as people would imagine. And that’s striking.”
The full report can be accessed here.