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Boston, MA. (August 2003) - A Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) report released today, Towards an Integrated Approach to Fair Housing Enforcement, documents the types of discrimination that people of color face in the home buying process. Based on a two-year study, the report identifies potentially discriminatory practices by real estate agents, mortgage lenders and insurance companies.

"The results of the study were mixed. On the one hand, there was no evidence of overt discrimination against minorities in the targeted areas of this report. This is an encouraging finding. On the other hand, there are some areas of concern," said MCAD Chairwoman Dorca I. Gomez.

Created in 1945, the MCAD is responsible for enforcing the Commonwealth's anti-discrimination laws in the areas of housing, employment, public accommodations, credit and education. The agency typically takes in and resolves between 4,000-5,000 complaints of discrimination annually. In 2001, the MCAD undertook a research initiative in partnership with the Housing Discrimination Project, Inc. (HDP) of Holyoke, MA, funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, to determine whether homebuyers in Massachusetts faced discriminatory sales and lending practices in their attempts to enter a tight real estate market.

Although there wasn't direct evidence of discrimination, the research revealed that some lenders, real estate agents and insurance companies used certain practices that subjected homebuyers of color to disadvantageous terms and conditions in their transactions. Examples include the following:

  • A mixed-race couple in Worcester received a 15-year mortgage at a 12% interest rate with a hidden $96,000 balloon payment
  • A Black homebuyer in Dorchester was "baited" with a 7.8% interest rate, only to be "switched" to 8.6% at the closing. The homebuyer was not given an option to "lock-in" the original interest rate.
  • Owners of triple deckers, which are located predominantly in communities of color, are forced to pay high insurance premiums ($1,600 - 2,800 annually) through the quasi-government FAIR Plan, as few private companies offer policies

The research was based on over 200 interviews with recent homebuyers. Utilizing geographic information systems (GIS), the MCAD was able to combine Census and mortgage lending data with home sales records. This allowed the MCAD to focus its research in communities with a significant number of Asian, Black and Latino homebuyers. The MCAD then hired and trained researchers to interview homebuyers and document their experiences.

"This innovative approach to researching and identifying discriminatory practices is a major breakthrough in civil rights enforcement. It will allow us to root out discrimination and prosecute the offenders in a way that we could not in the past," said MCAD Chairwoman Dorca Gomez.

Guy Stuart, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and Principal Investigator for the study, said, "We did something never done before - we combined recent technological advances with the methods of social science to make the link between large demographic trends and individual acts of housing discrimination."

The MCAD plans to use the research to prosecute complaints on behalf of aggrieved individuals together with its non-profit partners, HDP and the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston. The MCAD will seek remedies for individual victims, including monetary damages, civil penalties and injunctive relief.

"We take these offenses seriously and intend to devote significant resources to providing redress for those who have been victimized," said David Fried, Chief of Enforcement at the MCAD.

Copies of the report can be obtained through MCAD's website at www.mass.gov/mcad, under Forms and Publications.

Anyone who believes he or she has experienced housing discrimination is encouraged to call the MCAD in Boston at (617) 994-6000, in Worcester at (508) 799-8010, or in Springfield at (413) 739-2145.