It was about eight years ago when L.D.’s boyfriend at the time came home after an exciting job interview. He was so enthusiastic about this opportunity that he had to share it with L.D. The job was to be a tester in the Fair Housing Justice Center’s (FHJC) Acting for Justice program. “This is such a great organization,” L.D. recalls him explaining. “They fight housing discrimination, and they actually bring cases!” L.D. was struck by this description; her experience with nonprofits had often been that they didn’t always meet their lofty words with action. Her boyfriend at the time – now husband – encouraged L.D. to apply to be a tester through the Actors Fund as well, which she did. Leaving the interview, she was just as excited to become a tester as he was.
“Activism goes hand-in-hand with being an artist,” she explained. “I felt that this was an opportunity both to be an artist and to do something good, not only for myself as an African American, but for all New Yorkers.”
Since then, L.D. has participated in numerous testing investigations, a few of which uncovered discrimination. During some of her tests, L.D. was lied to about the availability of housing, quoted higher rents, or not offered the same options as her white counterpart. But in most of these instances, L.D. didn’t realize that the housing provider was discriminating against her until she was called into the FHJC office and told about what happened.
She recalled one time when she listened to the recording of a test and heard how differently she was treated from a white tester. “It was very difficult to listen to,” she remembered. “When you find out you were discriminated against on a test, it is very disheartening. You are presenting yourself as a productive member of society, but because of the color of your skin you are not being allowed or offered housing, which affects so many other aspects of your life – from where you buy groceries to which school your kids can go to.”
However, though the experience can sometimes be difficult, L.D. continues to serve as a tester because she knows how important the work is. “I feel like I am doing something that matters with an organization that is making a difference,” she said. For L.D., seeing the effects of the FHJC’s work – the changed housing practices, the opening up of neighborhoods previously segregated, the commitment and dedication of those people fighting for fair housing – is what makes this work worth it.