Detroiters who have dealt with discrimination as they tried to buy a home or rent one can air their grievances at a public hearing this week.
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission — an 8-member body responsible for investigating instances of alleged discrimination — is hosting the first of a series of hearings across the state to hear from residents about their experiences with housing discrimination, from difficulties getting a mortgage to the challenges people living with disabilities face.
The event is scheduled to take place Wednesday from 4-7 pm. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School at 3200 E. Lafayette Street in Detroit.
“Housing discrimination really tears at the very fabric of our communities,” said John E. Johnson, executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) — the commission’s operational arm, which conducts investigations.
The civil rights department receives formal complaints, but the public hearings are an opportunity for people who have not reported discrimination to share their experiences.
The goal, Johnson said, is to understand the common issues people face and then use that to shape policies. The hearings can inform lawmakers, banks and landlords, he said.
Complaints related to housing discrimination made up about 14 percent of the more than 1,400 overall complaints the MDCR received during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2023, according to data from the civil rights department. It ranks third, after employment and public accommodation or public service grievances, which account for most of the complaints.
The majority of the housing complaints are about disabilities, including claims that landlords fail to accommodate people with disabilities and those who say they were evicted because of their disability, Johnson said.
He pointed to some other areas of housing discrimination, including appraisal bias and mortgage lending disparities.
Appraisal bias is discrimination in the appraisal process, such as when homes are undervalued based on race and ethnicity. In Detroit, though home mortgage approvals have been going up, lenders approve Black borrowers at a lower rate than white borrowers, according to a 2022 report from the think tank Detroit Future City. The top three reasons, the report said, were because of credit history, appraisal issues and too high debt-to-income ratios.
A virtual public hearing is slated to take place on Feb. 7 and will be open to residents across Michigan. The commission is also tentatively expecting to host at least two more in-person public hearings next year — one on March 16 in the Flint, Saginaw and Bay City area and another on April 28 in Grand Rapids. Locations have not been finalized yet.
The testimonies people make at the hearings are public comments, not formal complaints. Those who want to file a complaint must go through the Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ complaint process. One of the criteria for complaints is that the incident must have happened within 180 days.
The commission will convene a Civil Rights Summit on June 12 in Detroit at The Icon, located at 200 Walker Street.
Free Press staff writer JC Reindl contributed to this report with prior reporting.