There was a time when red-lining and refusing to rent or sell property to minorities was an acceptable way to do business. Segregated housing patterns may be insidious, but they are as American as apple pie.
Parts of Pittsburgh and its suburbs still reflect this Jim Crow-era practice. Some of it is no accident of geography. There are homeowners and rental companies determined to keep some communities as racially homogeneous as possible. They know they are violating long-established laws against housing discrimination, and they try to keep it quiet.
Last week, the U.S. Justice Department sued S-2 Properties, owner of Baldwin Commons apartments, in federal court for racial discrimination. The department used testers, people who pose as renters, to build its case.
White testers who asked about renting were encouraged by S-2 Properties staff to move in to the 100-apartment complex in Baldwin Borough, but African-Americans were told they would be placed on a waiting list, according to the federal agency. This happened even when a black tester inquired only hours before a white tester.
If the department's allegations are true, this is the kind of bias that adds to the Greater Pittsburgh community's lack of racial diversity. It could make the company subject to monetary damages and civil penalties.
S-2 Properties called the department's claims "absolutely meritless." Attorney John Corcoran said, "My clients do not and have never discriminated against anyone, period."
Even when it appears obvious, racial bias can be difficult to prove. No one knows how the case in Baldwin will turn out in court, but the Justice Department is right to pursue the allegations of discrimination. A more inclusive and livable community hangs in the balance.
First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM