Voice Profiling Experienced by African American Renters in the Philadelphia Region

For Immediate Release:  April 14th, 2009

Contact: James Berry, Executive Director
Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia
  610-604-4411, ext. 4 or berry@fhcsp.com

Swarthmore, PA – The Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia (FHCSP) completed a report entitled FHCSP Testing Audit: Housing Discrimination Trends in the Philadelphia Region, documenting the shared experiences of families with children, individuals with disabilities and African American home seekers and uncovering the continued prevalence of housing discrimination in the greater Philadelphia market.  The audit consists of 237 tests completed between January 2006 and December 2008 in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery Counties and the City of Philadelphia.  The report shows that despite enactment of fair housing laws over 41 years ago, discrimination continues to limit housing choice in the Philadelphia region on the basis of race, disability and familial status.

The report includes analysis of the Voice Profiling Project, designed to evaluate the level of racial profiling experienced by African Americans when they inquire about housing over the phone.  FHCSP partnered with linguistic expert, Dr. John Baugh with Washington University, to complete a voice analysis of trained testers.  Testers with racially identifiable voices contacted landlords, apartment complexes and real estate agents in the region and objectively documented their experiences to determine if white testers were treated more favorable than African American testers.

For many African Americans, housing opportunities are limited simply because they sound African American.  Results from the project show that in 54% of tests, testers that sound African American were treated less favorably than testers that sound white.  When compared to their white counterparts, African American testers were asked to pay increased security deposits, were offered fewer units and were less likely to be told about discounts.  In 8% of the tests, testers sounding African American didn’t receive return calls, while white testers received return calls and information about available housing.    

James Berry, FHCSP Executive Director, commented that “as a result of the foreclosure crisis and rising unemployment, there is an escalating demand for affordable housing in the Philadelphia area market, a market where racial minorities, families with children and people with disabilities face discrimination at unacceptable levels.” The report analyzed random site visits to uncover differences in treatment on the basis or race, disability and familial status. The evaluated data showed that: 

• 29% of tests showed preferential treatment favoring white testers over African American testers
• 33% of new construction communities violated the design and construction requirements
of the Fair Housing Act by developing housing inaccessible to individuals who use wheelchairs
• 27% of tests showed that individuals with disabilities were denied reasonable accommodation or modification requests
• 19% of tests showed preferential treatment favoring households without children over households with children

The audit confirmed that housing discrimination persists in the Philadelphia region.  Housing discrimination perpetuates segregation, denying consumers the opportunity to live in housing of their choice based solely on their desires and what they can afford.  “Efforts to eliminate discriminatory barriers to housing are key to abating the housing crisis and must be a priority if everyone is going to have equal access to recovery efforts” said Mr. Berry.  The need for a strong organization that helps assure fair access to quality housing for everyone remains as pressing today as it was in the 1950’s when FHCSP was founded. 

A copy of the complete report is available on the FHCSP website:  www.fhcsp.com.   The mission of FHCSP is to educate and advocate for equal access to quality, affordable housing in the Philadelphia region.   FHCSP is the nation’s oldest fair housing organization.  FHCSP will be presenting the report at a Fair Housing Symposium entitled Forging Partnerships and Creating Opportunities at 10:00 am on Wednesday April 15th, 2009.  The symposium will take place at the Marriott Philadelphia at 1201 Market Street in Philadelphia.  For more information on the report or the Fair Housing Symposium, please contact James Berry at (610) 604-4411, ext. 4 or berry@fhcsp.com.