1990 Finalist
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In 1977, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development sponsored a nationwide testing study, the Housing Market Practices Survey, that was used as an instrument to document the extensiveness of housing discrimination. Publication of the Housing Market Practices Survey in 1978 generated an interest on the part of both public and private fair housing agencies to conduct their own testing studies. Conceived in the early 1980s, but initiated in earnest in 1983, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) operated systemic testing programs which have emerged as a tool that allows governmental agencies to investigate systemic housing practices.

MCAD’s Systemic Fair Housing Testing and Enforcement Program is a two-part effort that seeks to eliminate institutionalized housing discrimination against minorities, women, and families with children. In the first part (the testing program), housing providers in particular geographic locations are investigated for compliance with the fair housing laws by the use of matched sets of individuals who pose as home seekers. In the second part (the enforcement program), housing discrimination complaints are brought against those agencies found to discriminate through the testing process. The settlement of these complaints has generated community-based responses to address the underlying problems of discrimination.

MCAD has completed five major testing programs in different areas of the state, investigating real estate offices for discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, families with children and female-headed households with rental subsidies. Based on the testing results, MCAD has initiated complaints against 70 to 80 percent of the agencies that were tested. Settlements have subsequently been reached, including: (1) the formation of a community-wide charitable trust, funded by real estate offices, to conduct fair housing activities; and (2) the funding and creation of a staff position in a local nonprofit agency to monitor the housing activities of realty firms and to assist the firms in meeting affirmative commitments to house minority families, families with children, and homeless families with rental subsidies.

An unexpected result of is program has been the extraordinary amount of media interest in MCAD findings. This publicity, by increasing public awareness and understanding of the fair housing laws, has also helped to eliminate discriminatory practices. In fact, it is the increased awareness of fair housing testing that MCAD cites as its greatest achievement. Shortly after a number of news reports on housing discrimination appeared in local newspapers, MCAD started to conduct tests in two predominantly white suburbs of Boston that had had a history of denying equal access to minorities. Contrary to expectations, these tests revealed that the real estate agents in both communities were treating white and black home seekers in an equivalent manner.