To detect discrimination, the study used paired-testing and three different means of communication – email, telephone, and in-person visits – with housing providers about available housing.
More than 15 million people in the United States have some type of mental disability.
Many of these individuals seek community-based housing in the rental market.
Because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, an increasing number of individuals with disabilities are moving from nursing homes and other institutional settings into community-based settings.
Additionally, the overwhelming majority of housing discrimination complaints received in the U.S. involve discrimination based on a disability.
This pilot study represents the first comprehensive examination of discrimination in the rental housing market against people with mental disabilities (MD). The study specifically focuses on persons with mental illness (MI) and those with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD).
The goal of the study was to increase the understanding of the prevalence and forms of housing discrimination against this population as they seek market-rate housing and to evaluate the utility of different approaches to paired testing when conducting research on housing discrimination based on mental disability.
In the study, two people of similar age, race, gender, education, employment, household size, and income were paired. One member of each pair had a mental disability – either mental illness or an intellectual or developmental disability – and the other did not. Each member of the pair inquired about housing availability from the same housing provider.
In each test, the individual with a mental disability revealed the disability. For in-person inquiries, the tester with a mental disability was accompanied by someone without a mental disability posing as a friend. For phone inquiries, the person with a mental disability was represented by a non-disabled friend or family member.
For email inquiries, test administrators sent all emails inquiring about available units. The emails sent to housing providers were the same in all aspects except one of each pair revealed a mental disability. Reasonable accommodation requests, in the form of an allowance for an assistance animal or a request for a monthly reminder that rent was due, were incorporated in the telephone and email tests.
The in-person tests indicated that individuals with mental disabilities were less likely than those without a disability to be told that an advertised housing unit was available and less likely to be given a reason why it wasn’t available. Compared to their non-disabled counterparts, individuals with a mental illness were more likely to experience unfavorable treatment than individuals with a developmental disability.
In the telephone tests, people with disabilities were less likely to be invited to inspect the available unit. Individuals with mental illness were less likely than their non-disabled counterparts to be told an advertised unit was available and be given a reason why it wasn’t. There was no significant difference between individuals with developmental disabilities and their paired non-disabled testers.
In the email tests, emails from individuals with mental disabilities were less likely to receive a response back than those from individuals without a disability. Where both the disabled and non-disabled person received a response, the non-disabled person was more likely to be invited to make an appointment or to see the unit. Again, this pattern of discrimination was found for individuals with mental illness but not for those with developmental disabilities.
The study also found that housing providers were more likely to provide a reasonable accommodation when the request was made by telephone rather than by email. Fifty-nine percent of requests made by telephone and 15% of those made by email were accommodated.