Racial watchdog finds bias in housing market

Testers find discrimination by agents in Carroll

June 13, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

After monitoring Carroll County's housing market for racial discrimination for nearly a year, a watchdog group says it has recorded a "fair number" of instances where minorities have been discouraged from seeking housing in various areas.

Officials of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit fair-housing group based in Baltimore, said research by black and white testers since last summer has shown discriminatory practices by real estate and rental agents.

Specific data on the research was incomplete, said Martin Dyer, associate director of BNI, who added that testing, which is anonymous, continues.

"In one case, at an open house being shown by an experienced Realtor, the black tester had the door slammed in their face," said Patricia Staples, BNI outreach coordinator for Carroll County and newly elected secretary of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "The tester was frightened by the experience and did not want to go back."

In a county that is predominantly white -- African-Americans make up 3 percent of the population of 150,000 -- Staples said her group is aiming to dissect housing patterns that also show the majority of blacks living in segregated areas of Westminster and Eldersburg -- towns located near major highways.

Census figures from 1990 show the number of black residents in Carroll grew from 174 in 1980 to 898 in 1990, a 416 percent increase. That figure is expected to increase dramatically when the census is taken again next year, Staples said.

"The data shows segregation in clear patterns in Carroll County," Dyer said. "We want to dissipate the blatant form of racism and the prevalence of racial [housing] steering and to get the message across that people in real estate should not make assumptions."

Last year, the new Taneytown home of an African-American woman was vandalized -- the walls and appliances were painted with racial slurs and pornographic phrases -- weeks before she and her children were to move in. The FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime.

The resident, Karen Magruder, is a cook at Carroll County General Hospital who spent about eight months building the home with the help of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland Inc., a nonprofit group that helps build affordable housing for low-income families.

Staples pointed to another Taneytown incident in which a real estate agent was allegedly assaulted by a resident who "told the Realtor what would happen to him if he sold a house to a black man." That case, about which Staples would not release details, is pending before the U.S. Department of Justice, she said.

At a meeting of the Carroll County Association of Realtors last week, Dyer outlined fair housing practices and detailed the racial testing currently under way.

One real estate agent, Sharon Callahan, told of hearing inappropriate comments while showing houses.

"It is not the real estate community that has an issue here," Callahan said during a question-and-answer session. "It's the general public who are living in the past. I've heard the public make comments that are clearly inappropriate and in violation of the law."

Dyer said a lack of affordable housing in Carroll -- which is marked by sprawling new developments where homes start at around $120,000 -- also helps promote racial discrimination.

"The lack of affordable homes feeds racial unrest," Dyer said. "People on the low end of the income scale are most affected. It's very sad."

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