For J.J., being a fair housing tester is a matter of living her values. J.J. was raised with a strong belief system, one she continues to live out as an adult. Whenever an opportunity arises, J.J.’s goal is to give back, in both big and small ways. Therefore, the opportunity become a tester in the Fair Housing Justice Center’s (FHJC) Acting for Justice program was a great way to both make some additional income and give back to her adopted home of New York City.
When J.J. first heard about the opportunity to become a tester, she was not aware of how pervasive housing discrimination and residential segregation are in the region. “To me, New York City is truly the quintessential melting pot,” J.J. stated. “Of all places in this country, I did not expect to find such discrimination here. The sad reality of housing inequality and discrimination inspired me to get involved.” And since she started testing more than three years ago, she continues to be inspired to do this work as she learns more and more about fair housing in New York.
Part of this learning has come from the moments that shock J.J. while on tests. One element of testing that shocked J.J. was the assumptions that some housing providers would make. As a white tester, J.J. has found that some of the housing providers she interacts with on tests will say things to her that, “they would not say if they knew they were being recorded.” Specifically, she has been on tests in which a housing provider would share their prejudice or biases with her. “So that was shocking to me – the assumption that we all share the same disdain or judgment about people who are not ‘like us,’” she noted. At the same time, J.J. is also shocked when she learns after the fact that a housing provider who treated her well on a test discriminated against other testers. “I guess it is my own naiveté,” said J.J. “You think that if they were nice to me then they will treat everyone the same way. I think that is part of the problem – people who are not discriminated against assume that people will treat everyone else the same way that they treated you.”
When reflecting on why this work is important, J.J. goes back to her deeply held beliefs. “The work that the FHJC does upholds the rights of all Americans,” she explained. “We must fight for equal rights, strive for it, and seek justice when it does not exist or else we may all lose the very things we cherish most about being American… We must make examples of those who break the law to ensure that the problem does not persist. Our diversity is truly our greatest strength. We must protect it and seek social justice whenever and wherever we can.”