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Discrimination: Sizing up people by their age, marital status, the car they drive, & skin tone

I was 32 years old, a white male, and apparently naïve.

It was 1991. I had just accepted a job at the Bulletin.

I had given a three weeks’ notice and started looking almost immediately for an apartment to rent in Manteca.

The publisher at the time, Darrel Phillips, told me I didn’t have to live in Manteca.  

My response: I wasn’t about to be an editor of a local newspaper and not live in the community I was covering.

Darrel warned me that the Manteca apartment market was tight even though it was the second year of a recession.

Years later, while doing a story on a Manteca’s lack of new apartment construction. it was shown the city went 18 years without a single new unit being built. During that period the city had a lack of available property with a high enough density zoning attached that allowed for it to financially pencil out to justify building complexes.

The result was a disproportionate higher percentage of single family homes as opposed to multiple family units even compared to many communities of similar size such as Tracy and Lodi.

Clearly, Manteca is still playing catch-up with close to 2,600 apartment units either now under construction, approved to be built, or in the approval process.

My look for a place to lease wasn’t going well.

In apartments complexes that were in my budget, there weren’t many vacancies.

My search was compounded by the fact I was looking for a one bedroom. I could neither afford a two bedroom in the more affordable complexes nor did I have the luxury of renting with someone who could split the rent.

I finally came across a decent complex that had a one bedroom in my price range.

The complex manager cut to the chase, at least in terms how she handled the game of apartment hunting.

When I told her I was interested in the one bedroom unit she had available, she did not offer to show it to me. She did not give me an application form. She didn’t ask me what I did for a living.

Instead, she asked me one question: Was I single?

I answered in the affirmative.

She then told me that she couldn’t rent to me.

I asked why.

She informed me that they made it a policy not to rent to single men that were younger because they created “just too many problems.”

It was clearly discriminatory.

But I didn’t have time to argue.

And to be honest, I’m sure it wouldn’t have helped me secure the apartment anyway.

So, I started exercising my last option. That involved checking out three complexes that were barely affordable for my income.

The first didn’t have a vacancy coming up for a month. The second had a vacancy but it was a bit too much for my means even though my income qualified. I don’t like the idea of not having wriggle room between income and outgo.

My luck changed on my third  — and last — stop.

The manager said she had three different one bedroom units available, or about to become available,  in the next week

Two were downstairs while the other was on the second floor.

I told her I wanted to see the second floor unit. She said I’d probably be happier with the downstairs units on the other side of the complex.

I explained to her that I preferred the second floor. She kept trying to steer me to the other units noting there were single women in adjoining units.

I’m not too sure what she was getting at, but I had two fairly expensive racing bicycles at the time that I was much more comfortable in terms of security by renting a second floor apartment that I deduced was less likely to be targeted by burglars.

I looked at the second floor apartment and decided I’d take it.

She again asked me if I was sure as she could still show me the other two units. I declined.

As I was filling out the paperwork, a clean-cut young man came into the office.

He introduced himself to the manager, noting he had called several hours earlier and she had told him there were available apartments.

Without missing a beat, the office manager replied she was sorry but that he was too late as she had just leased the last available unit to me.

The young man thanked her for her time.

Just as the door closed behind him, it dawned on me what was going on. There were still two apartments available.

The manager didn’t want to rent to him because of what he looked like and/or what he drove.

Again, I was a 32-year-old white male. I was dressed in corduroy dress shorts and a polo shirt. I drove a 1989 burgundy Volvo 240.

The polite guy she lied to was easily a couple years younger than I was.

He was well-groomed and wore khakis. He had a clean white tank top T-shirt that in the vernacular of slang is known as a wife beater.

He was driving a nicely restored 1958 Chevy with a high quality paint job. The car was clean and shiny.

Having had cousin who had restored a 1957 Chevy, they weren’t exactly cheap to do. And it goes without saying his car that day was a lot cleaner than mine.

He was also Hispanic.

My conscience started to duke it out in my head.

I wanted to tell the manager what I thought about how she did business and walk out.

But that, I’m not proud to say, was a fleeting thought.

The complex was the last affordable option and I was running of time.

A year or so later after living there, I asked the manager one day why a unit across from where I was next to the dumpster had such a high turnover. It seemed to be vacated on close to a monthly basis.

By this time, I had learned that the complex was owned by three partners — two lawyers and an accountant — in San Jose.

The manager told me that was why she tried to get me to rent one of the other two units.

She explained the unit was set aside by the owners as a “safety valve”. The unit was available to rent to people that they knew would be iffy — income problem, credit history or whatever — that fell within groups of people they had general reservations about renting to.

That way, if an issue came up as in a complaint being filed, they could have a track record to fall back on of “doing the right thing.”

 We can try to convince ourselves all we want, but discrimination of  all sorts flourishes. We can all be “victims” of it although belonging to some groupings — based on age, beliefs, skin tone,  religion, occupation  or whatever — more so than others.

And we all also are highly likely to pass on such slights — whether it happens to us or others — if it serves our own best interests to do so.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at