No Sting: Feds Won’t Go Undercover to Prove Housing Discrimination

ProPublica Staff

United States (ProPublica) – by Nikole Hannah-Jones

The four-bedroom house advertised on Craigslist sounded like just what Claire Rembis and her husband had been looking for. It sat on two verdant acres with plenty of room for their seven home-schooled children to run and play. And the $850 monthly rent was much cheaper than the prices for other homes they’d looked at.

Rembis loaded her family into their Dodge van and drove the 80 miles from Dearborn to Hudson, Mich. After the landlord’s brother showed them the property, they called the landlord and told her they “loved it.”

Three days later, Rembis got a call from the landlord saying she was dropping by to see how the family lived. It seemed strange, but Rembis really wanted the house, so she agreed. The landlord looked around, noted how tidy Rembis kept her home, and then asked to meet her children.

“I notice you are a woman of color,” the landlord said. “Are you concerned about living in that area?” Hudson is about 96 percent white, according to the U.S. Census. Rembis is biracial; her husband is white.

When Rembis replied she expected she and her children would have no problems, the landlord clarified her question. “No, no, no, not your children,” Rembis recalled her saying. “They are so beautiful, they are so fair.”

The landlord told Rembis she’d get back to her. A few days later Rembis received an email saying the family could not rent the house because there were issues with their credit and they had too many small children.

By then, Rembis had already contacted the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit, a non-profit group. The center arranged for black and white testers to ask to rent the house.

Four years later, Rembis still gets emotional when she talks about what the testers found. “This part is really hard,” she said, her voice breaking. “This part is really hard. The black family and the white family had the same income, the same credit history, and the black family had the least number of kids. They wouldn’t even let them see the house. They wouldn’t return their phone calls.”

The white family, the testing showed, was called back immediately and invited to see the house.

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