Housing advocates claim Seattle landlords are giving some tenants preferential treatment and now the NAACP says it’s discriminatory.
Mercedes Elizalde is one such person who recently sought out housing. At the time, she was working at the Garfield Community Center running programs for school-aged children. Her partner was in the tech industry.
“He was working at Microsoft at the time,” Elizalde told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “And after he said that, [the landlord] said, ‘Oh, well we have this preferred employer program where we can give you discounts on the move-in costs.'”
And just like that, the couple was able to nab one of Seattle’s highly-prized apartments. Since then, Elizalde got a new job at the Low Income Housing Institute.
“That kind of opened my eyes a lot to the kind of barriers people were facing with housing,” Elizalde said. “It made me wonder how often things like that happened. We were setting people up to have a harder time when they were already having a hard time.”
Housing advocates say that some landlords are offering special deals to workers at certain companies, like Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is criticizing the tactic. The Puget Sound Business Journal reports, Rita Green, education chairwoman of the Seattle King County chapter of the NAACP, noted that these companies are not racially diverse.
“This is definitely discriminatory because these companies don’t hire people of color,” Green told the PSBJ.
Green said that such practices push people of color away from the city’s core.
The City of Seattle Office for Civil Rights is now looking into the preferred employer discount program. It is checking it against fair-housing guidelines. Seattle attorney Evan Loeffler has previously said that only certain groups of potential renters fall under a protected class, such as race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. The company listed on a paycheck is not a protected class.
Ross noted the discounts are actually a smart tactic for a housing market with limited availability and rising rents. And tech workers come with a reputation of being highly paid.
“Landlords don’t just want tenants who can pay the rent now. They want tenants who can pay the rent increases that we all know are coming,” Ross said.
Elizalde agreed with the logic, but maintains that the practice is still unfair. Something should be done about it, she said.
“It does make sense why someone is essentially trying to weed people out immediately, because there are so few vacancies,” she said. “We are having a problem in this city with not enough housing, and the housing that is available is becoming more expensive. Landlords are raising rents hundreds of dollars every single year. It is in their benefit to try and have somebody in there who can absorb a $150 increase rather than someone who can’t, and then turn over the unit.
“It seems unfair. And it seems like we are setting ourselves up to have a lack of diversity in our community, and I don’t think that’s what people want,” Elizalde added. “Sometimes, when the market doesn’t do what you as a society want it do, you have to create new boundaries.”