Nearly 70 percent of the nation's community-based organizations say housing discrimination continues unabated, especially against immigrants, disabled people, and families with children, results of a recent survey indicate.
Nearly 550 community groups surveyed in April by the nonprofit advocacy organization Consumer Action said that most of those facing discrimination are unsure of their rights and how to protect themselves.
At a news conference sponsored by Consumer Action in Washington, D.C., Thursday, John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., said many of those facing discrimination often aren't even aware of it, owing to their limited proficiency in English.
The language barrier creates difficulties for immigrant renters in understanding the terms of a lease and being fully aware of living conditions before moving in, and they often face the "possibility of eviction without knowing their full rights" under the law.
For homebuyers with limited English, "there are often issues with the terms of the purchase of the property and [they] are often made to pay unnecessary costs" to acquire the house, Chin said.
Not only do language issues make it difficult for immigrants to locate competitive mortgage rates, but many don't have what U.S. lenders consider proof of credit — they may have a down payment, but all in cash and not in a bank per se.
Housing remains at the top of the list of the Asian community's needs, especially housing for low- and moderate-income families, Chin has said, with 38 percent at or below the poverty line.
To help ease members of Philadelphia's Asian community into homeownership, Chin's organization holds classes in financial literacy and offers individual counseling for mortgage preparation and placement of families into affordable homeownership opportunities.
"The financial literacy and home-buying education process can reverse discrimination," Chin said.
Many immigrants come from repressive societies in which authorities, especially the police, are feared and avoided instead of being approached for help. That often stops newcomers from seeking assistance with unscrupulous landlords or real estate agents, said Ken McEldowney, Consumer Action's executive director.
Most of the discrimination involving immigrants, the disabled and families with children "is still face to face," rather than on the Internet, which remains reasonably anonymous, he said.
The organizations surveyed said that most of those experiencing bias in buying houses or renting are simply "refused the opportunity to do so," McEldowney said, or are "subjected to different terms, conditions or privileges for the sale or rental of a dwelling."
Although the rights of these groups are clearly spelled out in fair-housing laws, the majority of the community-based groups surveyed said they have seen large increases in the number of complaints alleging discrimination.
An Aug. 29 Department of Housing and Urban Development report said more than 10,000 fair-housing discrimination complaints were filed in fiscal 2010. Discrimination based on a person's disability continued to be the largest single category of complaints — 48 percent, the report said.
Thirty-four percent alleged discrimination based on race, and 15 percent on family status, which is consistent with the number and type of complaints received during the previous three years, the report stated.
Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, email@example.com or@alheavens at Twitter.