Audit finds race discrimination in housing based on voice identification

A telephone audit conducted earlier this year in Solano County, California of 40 rental housing properties in which nearly 5,500 people reside, found at least some negative differential treatment toward African-Americans in 65% of the cases and no case in which African-Americans were treated more favorably.   The most prevalent  type of differential treatment uncovered (found in nearly 50 percent of the cases) was African-American testers receiving inferior, less flexible terms and narrower options, in terms of amount of rent, security deposit, minimum income requirements and move-in specials.  The audit also found that a significant number of the African-American testers (as opposed to white testers) received less information about the availability of units.

Fair Housing of Marin with the help of the Solano County office of Legal Services of Northern California, conducted the audit following similar audits with similar results in neighboring jurisdictions, including Sonoma County and the city of Richmond.   Undergirding the audit methodology and approach are studies by Stanford University linguistics professor John Baugh which found the existence of race and ethnicity discrimination based solely on speech patterns.  As the audit states, Baugh’s March 1999 article (co-authored) Perceptual and Phonic Experiments on American English Dialect Identification showed that people are able to identify correctly the race of a speaker 80 percent of the time by the mere utterance of the word “hello”.

The audit recommendations include disseminating the report to Solano County official for remedial action and to other entities and the public as an educational tool and monitoring the sites where discrimination was detected for potential further action.  Click here to read the full audit report.