By Ericka Lesley, Chair, Santa Monica Black Agenda and SMRR Steering Committee member
Have you ever taken a walk around your neighborhood and wondered, “Why don’t I see more people that look like me?” As a black woman, I have asked myself this question. As I have observed over the years, a dwindling number of neighbors that look like me, I started to question why. My questions led me to variable observations. One was the history of the Belmar project, in which systemic racism, under the veil of eminent domain erased a thriving black community. Has the black community ever recovered? The demographic statistics from census.gov of the past few years reflect 5.0% in 2019 and 4.48% in 2020 & 2021. However, as the pandemic surged and the number of vacancies rose extraordinarily, I wondered if this would force discriminatory mindsets to change.
Housing discrimination as described by the department of fair employment & housing are:
1. Refusal to rent, or lease rooms, apartment, condos, or houses to protected individuals.
2. Refusal to negotiate the rental or lease of housing.
3. Representation that housing is not available for inspection, rental when it is in fact available.
4. Policies, practices, terms, or conditions that result in unequal access to housing or housing related services.
As I started my search, I contacted several listings to see what responses I would receive. One of the classic discriminatory practices is the phone interview. How many people? Where do you work? Where do you live? How did you hear about Santa Monica? What is your credit score? How much do you get paid? My response is and was, “I need to answer these questions just to VIEW THE APARTMENT?”. The usual response was, “Yes, I don’t want to waste my time!” or “I want to see who I am renting to.” One might ask, how do I know that the questions were/are discriminatory? My response is that I had my friends follow up with the same listing and they were not asked the same questions. They were just scheduled to view the unit. No phone interview.
Also in my quest for rental equality. I contacted other listings. I discovered another trend. Of listings that were contacted, there was no response. I also had my friends follow up with these listings, and as time passed I discovered that some of these listing remained vacant for years with “for rent” signs in front of the vacancies.
On my individual research quest I discovered another category, the no show. I would schedule a showing for the listing after contacting the manager. However, when I would show up for the appointment the manager would not show up for the appointment. I would call the manager of these appointments and either I would receive an apology with a reschedule with other potential applicants or the manager would not answer the phone. For these types of responses I once again called in my friend to see what type of response they would receive. A few (2) responded with a scheduled appointment.
White Response Only
Some management companies that responded to my research-based inquiries would have a multiple of potential applicants arrive at the same time, for all to view the unit. It is my observation that in this setting, the non-minority were given priority and serious consideration. (They were offered rental applications without having to ask for one or were given offers of further exploration of the property and unit.) In some instances potential applicants were offered credit accommodations. Sometimes the manager/acting agent would be so engrossed in conversation that I was ignored. Thank you to all of my friends who helped me with my research. You might ask why would I write this account of my research journey. I would tell you that it is important to highlight housing discrimination. It is a reason that SMRR is important. This is the reason that I joined the SMRR Steering Committee to ensure that there is equality for ALL.