Advocacy group launches housing discrimination project

February 13, 2014
Evelina Burnett

The Mississippi Center for Justice says housing discrimination remains one of the most prevalent forms of injustice in the state. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports on their new statewide project to combat unfair practices in housing.

A 2008 study found that African Americans in Mississippi still have a harder time than their white couterparts when applying for a home mortgage. It found on average, 60 percent of black applicants were denied mortgages, versus 35 percent of whites.

"Even when this particular 2008 study controlled for differences in income, racial disparities in the denial of home purchase loans were still evident," says Matt Williams, a policy associate at the Mississippi Center for Justice.

"African Americans earning more than $45,000 a year were still found to be twice as likely to be denied home purchase loans relative to whites," he says.

The November 2008 study looked at housing date from 1996 to 2006 and was prepared by Western Economic Services, LLC, for the Mississippi Development Authority. Williams notes that the study also found that even at incomes above $60,000 a year, whites were denied 12.6 percent of the time, while African Americans were denied 32.3 percent of the time.

These and other factors helped prompt the Mississippi Center for Justice’s new project, funded by a grant from HUD, investigating housing discrimination throughout the state. John Jopling is the center’s housing law director.

"The project is going to do three basic things," he says. "First we're going to process individual allegations of housing discrimination, investigate them and pursue a resolution along a number of available legal avenues."

The project will also educate Mississippians about the Fair Housing Act, which protects against discrimination based on race, family status, and disability, among other factors. And the center will test if federal housing laws are being followed in Mississippi by sending out its own "secret shoppers."

"We're going to independently test apartment complexes, real estate offices, newspapers and others for compliance with the Fair Housing Act, and initiate if necessary legal action to correct any irregularities," he says.

The center is asking Mississippians who may have experienced housing discrimination to contact them by phone at 228-702-9981 or online at www.mscenterforjustice.org.