Wendell Pierce Claims Discrimination in Trying to Rent a Harlem Apartment

The acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce says his rental application for an apartment in Harlem was denied by a white landlord, and he believes racism is the reason.

Mr. Pierce, who is Black, shared his experience on X in a post on Monday night that quickly garnered thousands of comments and shares.

In the post, he described his “righteous anger” and said that “Even with my proof of employment, bank statements and real estate holdings, a white apartment owner DENIED my application to rent the apartment.” The apartment was, Mr. Pierce wrote, “in Harlem, of all places.”

“Racism and bigots are real,” he continued. “There are those who will do anything to destroy life’s journey for Black folks. When you deny our personal experiences, you are as vile and despicable.”

Mr. Pierce, 60, is best known for playing Detective Bunk Moreland on HBO’s “The Wire,” and has stepped into starring television roles on “Suits,” “Treme” and “Jack Ryan.” He currently appears in the Starz drama “Power Book III: Raising Kanan” and the CBS comedy-drama “Elsbeth.”

In addition to his screen work, Mr. Pierce, who trained at Juilliard, is active on the stage. He was a producer of the 2012 Tony Award-winning play “Clybourne Park,” and he was nominated for a Tony himself in 2023 for his performance as Willy Loman in the Broadway revival of “Death of a Salesman.”

The post, which had been shared more than 8,000 times by Tuesday evening, drew comparisons to the story of Raven Baxter, a Black molecular biologist in Virginia who was in escrow for a condo in Virginia when, she alleges, the white seller tried to cancel the home sale because of her race.

Dr. Baxter shared her story with The New York Times, in an article published Friday.

Mr. Pierce did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Lionel Coleman, one of the directors of “Raising Kanan,” said he was stunned when he saw his friend’s post.

“Wendell is royalty in the entertainment community,” he said. “If it can happen to Wendell, it means it can really happen to any of us.”

Mr. Coleman, who has a Black father and a white mother, said he often thinks of stories his mother told him of going alone to see apartments for rent in Brooklyn so that the landlord would not know her husband’s race.

“I guess that strategy is something we still have to keep using,” he said. “Systemic racism still exists in this country, and in our current political climate it’s as if it’s been given fertilizer.”

The Fair Housing Act makes housing discrimination illegal in both renting and buying, and landlords who are found to discriminate based on race, gender, religion or sexual orientation or identity can face fines in the tens of thousands of dollars or higher. In addition, New York State and New York City each have their own fair housing laws, and the New York City Human Rights Law explicitly states that housing discrimination is illegal.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights, which enforces the Human Rights Law, has an online form and a tip line for reporting violations.

“The New York City Commission on Human Rights protects the right of everyone in New York City to live, work and thrive, free from discrimination,” a spokesperson for the organization said, encouraging “anyone in New York City who believes they have experienced or witnessed discrimination in employment, housing or public spaces” to reach out.

But despite nationwide laws, renters continue to face housing discrimination. One study in Boston, published in 2020, found evidence of discrimination based on the renter’s race in 71 percent of cases.

Mr. Pierce has a long history of harnessing his celebrity for civil rights activism. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his childhood home in Pontchartrain Park, one of New Orleans’s seminal Black neighborhoods, he formed a community development organization to lead the rebuilding process in the area. He received a Distinguished Citizen Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in 2023 for his work.

In his post on Monday, Mr. Pierce did not name the landlord or give any more specifics about his rental application.

Hours after publishing his initial post, Mr. Pierce returned to X to rail against the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Fearless Fund, a program that awards grants and training to Black women who start their own businesses. Racism continues to rage in America, he warned, and his story of housing discrimination was but one example.

“While I appreciate the response to my own personal experience of discrimination in housing, I only mentioned it as an example of the insidious nature of bigotry,” he wrote. “This court decision is profoundly more disturbing and injurious. CALL TO ACTION.”

Minutes later, he added another post.


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