Fair and equal access to housing is a fundamental right. No one should ever be denied a place to live because of race or the color of their skin or because they have a disability. This equal access right is spelled out in Seattle's Municipal Code which also identifies other classes protected from housing discrimination.
Last December, after reviewing newspaper articles from 10 years ago that told of widespread housing discrimination in Seattle, Councilmember Bruce Harrell and I sent a letter to the City's Office for Civil Rights asking for an audit to determine whether illegal practices in rental housing were still occurring.
Last Friday, the Office for Civil Rights announced the audit results. Here are the key findings:
"Overall, 55% of the tests showed evidence of illegal discrimination. In the tests for race-based discrimination, 69% showed patterns of inconsistencies that generally favored white testers. The inconsistencies included quoting a higher rent to African American testers, not telling African American testers about move-in specials, or using different screening criteria with African American testers, including credit or criminal background checks.
"In the tests for disability-based discrimination, 38% showed patterns of inconsistencies that create barriers for people with disabilities. The inconsistencies included refusing to accommodate service animals, not telling testers about available units, or not providing parking areas with spots designated for people with disabilities."
These findings are highly disappointing. I am pleased that the City is pursuing legal action against some of the property owners identified in the audit because often the best education is good law enforcement. Let's hope that in the future all property owners in Seattle comply with our fair housing laws which are intended to protect a fundamental American right to equal access to housing.