2 insurers accused of discrimination

May 12, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Two large insurance companies, Allstate and Nationwide, were accused yesterday by a federally financed housing organization of improperly denying homeowners insurance to minorities across the country.

Government officials and various consumer groups asserted at a Senate Banking Committee hearing that many insurance companies discriminated against minorities by either not making insurance available or charging higher prices for lower-quality policies than are available to homeowners in white neighborhoods.

The National Fair Housing Alliance, which filed the complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said it had found strong evidence of discrimination by Allstate and Nationwide in Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee and Louisville, Ky. Financing for the alliance's studies was subsidized by a HUD grant.

Both companies, the alliance noted, sell homeowners insurance through their own sales force, rather than through networks of independent agents.

Using testers who posed as customers with similar houses, but in different neighborhoods, the Housing Alliance found that callers from minority neighborhoods were discriminated against 90 percent of the time in Chicago, 60 percent of the time in Atlanta and Milwaukee, and 47 percent of the time in Louisville.

The Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. of Columbus, Ohio, disputed the assertions of the Housing Alliance, noting that it did not have any agents in Wisconsin.

In other locations, Nationwide said, it offers many policies based on risk, but that for homes of equal risk, prices and policies are the same for all applicants, regardless of race.

The Allstate Insurance Co. declined to comment on the charges.

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