Testing is a tool the agency uses to discover whether persons are being treated differently because of a protected personal characteristic such as race, sex, disability or familial status. Analogous to the "mystery shopping" technique that many businesses use, it is a way to check on how applicants and customers are being treated. When used by a civil rights agency, it also checks on compliance with the law.
In a typical housing test, persons of evenly matched qualifications but of a different personal characteristic will inquire about an apartment or house for rent. The test contacts will be recorded by audio or video tape. The Testing Team can then compare the results of the individual tests to determine if different treatment occurred.
Persons or businesses who are tested are notified that the test took place and of the results. If the person or organization "passed" the test they are congratulated. If the test uncovers potential problems, educational materials and training sessions are offered. Complaints are not filed as a result of a test unless the person or organization is unwilling to recognize the need to correct their practices, or unless the incident was particularly blatant.
While the majority of the testing has been done in the area of housing, employment and public accommodations tests are also done as needed. This happens most often when a citizen alerts the Commission to an action or policy of an employer or business which might be discriminatory.
As a result of a grant from HUD, housing tests were conducted in 51 medium-sized Iowa communities to determine the nature and extent of discrimination. A total of 909 tests were conducted between February 15, 1995 and April 30, 1996. Of this total, the Testing Team found 136 possible violations of fair housing laws, and filed 41 commissioner complaints.
Of the total number of tests, 402 were on familial status, 262 on disability, and 245 on race. Possible violations were found in 19% of the familial status tests, 12% of the disability tests, and 13% of the race tests.
In 1996 the Commission received a HUD grant to study mortgage lending practices in eight of the larger cities in Iowa. The 18-month study will look at lending, insurance and real estate practices and how they impact on minority home ownership.
The testing team has conducted interviews with community groups, lenders, regulators, insurers, appraisers and real estate agents to gather background information for the study.
The team has also calculated an index of dissimilarity for each of the eight communities, showing the amount of segregation in each community.
The team will also be analyzing Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data and conducting on-site race and national origin tests of lenders in each of the communities.
A final report on the project is expected by mid-1997.