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DISCRIMINATION WATCH : Open the Door

February 10, 1993

Housing discrimination, though illegal, just won't go away. Whites still discriminate against blacks, but that isn't the only problem in multicultural Southern California. According to fair-housing officials, Asian, Latino and white immigrant landlords sometimes exclude would-be renters on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Laws prohibit such prejudice, and the Clinton Administration is promising stronger enforcement. Henry G. Cisneros, the new head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, recently vowed to "upgrade and expand" HUD's efforts to uncover housing discrimination.

To determine patterns of discrimination in rental housing and home ownership, he said that the agency would have black and white testers of similar economic means apply for apartments and mortgages. That is a common method of proving discrimination, but HUD also should use testers who mirror Southern California's broad ethnic and racial diversity.

The competition for housing and potential for prejudice are greatest at the lower end of the market. Apartments that rent for $500 or less are at a premium. To increase that supply Cisneros also promised to encourage banks to make more loans for affordable housing development. Pressure from HUD and the White House should pay off in more low-rent housing without swelling federal deficits.

After more than a decade of shortsighted federal housing policies, this nation needs an aggressive housing secretary who will promote affordability and fight discrimination. Cisneros is on the right track.

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