Boston Leaders Propose ‘Secret Shopper' Investigation Into Housing Discrimination

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Boston City Councilor Matt O'Malley co-sponsored a hearing order Wednesday that would set up a program to have both white and minority testers go out and see what happens when they apply for the same apartment.

"Housing discrimination is real," O'Malley said.

He described the idea as "a secret shopper program." O'Malley and other councilors proposed it after last week's Suffolk University study showing that 71% of prospective Black tenants were discriminated against in Boston.

The study also found 86% of those holding a Section 8 voucher also faced discrimination.

"These numbers are absolutely abhorrent and they really underscore not only systemic racism in the housing market in greater Boston and beyond, but an opportunity for cities to step up and lead," said O'Malley.

Charles George is a senior vice president at Compass Real Estate, and he says he's even seen professionals discriminated against.

"There's no real 'We're not going to rent it to you because of this,' it's just, 'We're not accepting anymore applications,'" George said. "You sort of kind of know it may have something to do with their ethnicity or skin tone just because these people are very strong renters."

O'Malley says the secret shopper program would use volunteers mostly, maybe even from local colleges. He says it wouldn't cost taxpayers money and would raise public awareness. They'd also do public outreach, education and collect data.

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board says it doesn't condone any type discriminatory practices in any form, adding that it is "willing to work with the City to develop programs of all kinds, including education that would identify these issues and violations with the goal of stamping them out of the real estate industry."

A hearing on this secret testing program will most likely be held in the fall.

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