New study finds unfair housing, discrimination in University neighborhood

CNY Fair Housing conducted targeted investigations to verify complaints about denied housing in the SU neighborhood area.

When you think of discrimination, housing inequality is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, according to a recent study done by CNY Fair Housing, it’s an issue that’s becoming more prevalent right in our backyard.

After many families with children complained about being denied housing in the Syracuse University neighborhood, the nonprofit organization conducted targeted investigations to verify what it was hearing.

"In three of those ten tests, the families with children were outright denied the opportunity to rent the apartment that they were looking at."
- Sally Santangelo

To test for housing discrimination in the area, CNY Fair Housing looked at rental advertisements, analyzed potential zoning mandates and performed paired testing. This involved sending out two people to apply for housing who shared the same age, race, economic background and interests. However, the only difference between them was that one had children and the other did not.

Ten paired tests were completed and Sally Santangelo, the CNY Fair Housing Executive Director, said a majority of them did in fact find housing discrimination against families with children.

“In eight out of the ten tests there were some differences in treatment between the families with children compared to the families without children in the household,” Santangelo said. “In three of those ten tests, the families with children were outright denied the opportunity to rent the apartment that they were looking at.”

One of the organization’s most recent cases in the University area centered on a client who was told they couldn’t rent an upstairs apartment because they had children. Yet Santangelo said this kind of discrimination is not typical.

“It’s usually more subtle signs of discrimination,” she said. “So someone might not get a call back, or they’re given misinformation or not told about amenities that might be available.”

Karen Schroeder, the Assistant Director at CNY Fair Housing, said one of the most popular forms of housing discrimination occurs when landlords post ads using phrases like “student friendly housing,” “cozy for singles” or “young, studious professionals wanted.” Santangelo agreed, saying that these kinds of ads oftentimes discourage families with children from living in the area or even looking for housing there.

“We need to make sure those families who may want to live there understand that they have a legal right to do so,” Santangelo said. “Also educating landlords is one of the most important things we can do, so they understand that even though they can choose to only rent to students, they can’t deny families with children who may also be students.” 

The areas tested in the study were within two blocks adjacent to the Syracuse University campus. However, there were no geographic patterns found within the data. Instead, it found that housing on the same blocks varied in acceptance or denial of families with children.

In the move forward to help curb discrimination, the nonprofit is educating families about their rights regarding the rental of apartments around the city. They have also reached out and sent copies of the study to several landlord associations in the area and have offered to train members on the basics of fair housing. Although, the organization said many landlords have yet to engage in the training.

“We haven’t received as good of a response as we had hoped to so it’s something we want to keep working on,” Santangelo said. “We’ll continue to test the properties and if we need, we can pursue legal action if those patterns of discrimination don’t change as we retest these properties.”

CNY Fair Housing hopes that the recent findings help to arm potential renters with the knowledge they need to find a desirable place to live. They also hope it encourages more landlords to welcome families with children. 

“It’s a neighborhood that prides itself on being diverse, it’s our most diverse neighborhood in the community,” Santangelo said. "And we think that diversity needs to include families with children who are renters as well as home owners.”

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