Zumper, a home-listing site that has raised $150 million from backers like Blackstone and Kleiner Perkins, weeded out thousands of Section 8 renters in a practice some experts say may amount to discrimination

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Sharon Whitley was searching for an apartment in Chicago last summer when she stumbled onto the listings site Zumper, a San Francisco startup that has raised $150 million from big-name backers to compete with listings giants such as Zillow and Trulia.

Whitley, 59, worked for decades at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport cleaning passenger-airplane cabins between commercial flights. She said she left the job on disability in 2016 after undergoing open-heart surgery.

A single mother of three, she said she had relied since the mid-1990s on the federal government’s Section 8 voucher program, which provides her a $1,000-a-month subsidy toward the cost of her rent. Without the aid, she said, she wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment.

Whitley said she submitted her information to listings posted on Zumper’s site. She said she also remembered filling out a Zumper profile and answering yes when asked whether she relied on a Section 8 voucher.

“I did expect someone to contact me,” she said. “I never heard anything.”

At the time, Whitely chalked up her experience to the lack of responsiveness any renter might encounter during a search for a new home.

Instead, she may have been the victim of a subtle form of prejudice that has long plagued the real-estate industry. For decades, many landlords and brokers alike have passed over Section 8 renters based on untrue stereotypes and stigmas attached to government-subsidized tenants, some experts say.

One current employee and eight former employees who worked at the company as recently as this year said that during their time there Zumper systematically screened out Section 8 tenants who inquired about apartments on its site.

These sources, along with inside data showing the tenants Zumper disqualified and the reasons, painted a picture of a startup that, despite ambitions to shake up the residential real-estate industry, may have perpetuated some of its ugliest discriminatory practices.

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Whitley was among those on an internal list provided to Business Insider by a source showing thousands of Section 8 tenants who were disqualified by Zumper. The internal reason given for her dismissal was that she had been deemed “unserviceable.” That foggy term was overwhelmingly used within the company as a code word, four of the sources told Business Insider, to label the disqualification of Section 8 tenants who had in reality been pushed aside because of their status as renters who received government assistance.

In some of the markets where Zumper operated, including Chicago and New York City, it is illegal for landlords or brokerage firms to exclude renters because of their Section 8 status.

Kelsey Grady, a Zumper spokeswoman, denied that any kind of discrimination by the company had taken place.

“The company was built on the simple foundation that everyone, regardless of economic situation, deserves a better, more streamlined renting process,” Grady said. “This universal vision means that discrimination of any kind has never been tolerated.”

Sources say Zumper actively screened out tenants with Section 8 vouchers

Cofounded in 2012 by Anthemos Georgiades, a London-born Harvard Business School graduate and former consultant for the Boston Consulting Group, Zumper set …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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