Shaw: Housing discrimination is widespread in North Dakota
"The sad part is how common these situations are in North Dakota," writes InForum columnist Jim Shaw. "The uplifting part is the High Plains Fair Housing Center is a strong advocate against discrimination."
It doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but housing discrimination very much exists in North Dakota. We know this because of the excellent work done by the High Plains Fair Housing Center.
The center receives about 500 complaint calls a year from throughout North Dakota. The Center then checks out many of these complaints with trained testers, who act like potential tenants. The testers have found many cases of companies breaking fair housing laws. The victims who are discriminated against are usually people of color, people with disabilities, families with children or transgender.
There was a case in Fargo where an apartment building manager boasted, “This is a really good building. We don’t allow immigrants in this building. We send them across town.”
So, the testers went to work. A tester without an accent was told the building had vacancies and was welcome. A tester with a foreign accent was told the apartment building had no vacancies, and was told about openings in other buildings. A complaint was filed with the Department of Labor and Human Rights.
“The Fair Housing Act makes sure people have a choice,” said Angela Urlacher, the center’s Director of Enforcement. “By steering people into certain buildings they’re creating segregation. They’re not making it integrated, diverse and welcoming. It’s illegal. It’s racist.”
In Jamestown, a white tester inquired about an apartment, was told it was available and didn’t have to fill out an application or pay any fees. A Black African immigrant tester was told he was not eligible for the apartment until he filled out an application and paid an application fee.
“This case was so shocking and so blatant,” said Michelle Rydz, the Center’s Executive Director. “It uncovered some unfair situations in this community and this state. It made us more committed to do our work.”
In Bismarck, a white woman was shown a spacious and fancy first floor apartment as well as a smaller basement apartment. Later on the same day, a Native American woman was only shown the basement apartment, and told there were no other units available. Shortly after that, the white woman called back and was told the first floor apartment was still available.
“It was incredibly disheartening that people there were not treated equally,” said Urlacher.
The sad part is how common these situations are in North Dakota. The uplifting part is the High Plains Fair Housing Center is a strong advocate against discrimination.
“There’s a lot more going on than we get to,” Urlacher said. “It’s absolutely there. We hear a lot. It’s very prevalent.”
“A more diverse community is a better community,” Rydz said.
“Fair housing laws are not an option,” Urlacher said. “They’re the law and have to be enforced. Discrimination is not always blatant. A lot of times it comes with a smile and a handshake. It’s really insidious. People don’t know that they’re being lied to.”
Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.