Politicians call for probes into unequal treatment of Long Island home buyers

Homes on Long Island, New York.
Homes on Long Island, New York.
ROBERT SBARRA/Shutterstock
Homes on Long Island, New York.

Politicians call for probes into unequal treatment of Long Island home buyers

Newsday’s in-depth undercover report on real estate agents’ discriminatory behavior has angered officials.
November 20, 2019

On Sunday, Newsday published an extensive investigative report on the discriminatory practices of real estate agents on Long Island, prompting New York politicians to spring into action – or at least to fire off a scathing press release. 

The three-year undercover investigation found evidence of agents racial profiling prospective home buyers, treating them in a discriminatory and possibly illegal manner – and steering them toward neighborhoods that reflected the buyers’ own racial or ethnic makeup. Newsday conducted 86 “matching tests” to see how agents treated white buyers compared to buyers of another racial or ethnic background – typically with the same financial background and within the same age range – using actors to pose as buyers.

All tests were secretly videotaped and later reviewed by two fair housing experts to analyze the agents’ interactions with buyers. Both experts felt that the tests showed clear violations of the Fair Housing Act – which prohibits those seeking housing assistance from being discriminated against based on their race, ethnicity, religion and gender, among other things. About 40% of the tests revealed that buyers were treated unequally. “Black testers experienced disparate treatment 49 percent of the time – compared with 39 percent for Hispanic and 19 percent for Asian testers,” states the report.

Since these housing discrimination allegations have been made against the heavily segregated island, lawmakers and politicians have begun to voice outrage and concerns – some have even compiled serious plans of action to address the issue. Here are a few of the politicians who have pledged to look into the findings of Newsday’s damning report:

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

New York’s junior senator issued a statement saying that she would remain committed to fighting institutional statement: “This investigation brought to light what too many people of color in our state know already — that discrimination is real and targeted, and rears its head in every aspect of their lives. We have to do the hard work of breaking down institutional racism, and I remain committed to this work.”

Reps. Kathleen Rice and Tom Suozzi

Reps. Kathleen Rice and Tom Suozzi, whose districts cover large swaths of Long Island, are joining forces to call upon U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to investigate real estate agents’ unequal treatment of minorities on Long Island. The representatives are still in the process of composing a letter to Carson but are expected to send it to him in the near future.

“This is not only deeply disturbing and morally reprehensible — it’s also completely illegal,” Rice said in a statement sent to Newsday. “Clearly, the protections put in place under the Fair Housing Act are not being adequately enforced. And that has to change.”

Suozzi has reached out to local officials on Long Island, he told Newsday in a statement, acknowledging that segregation is a problem on Long Island.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

The governor’s spokesman, Richard Azzopardi, said that the Cuomo administration is looking into the report and encouraged those who feel they’re victims of housing discrimination to reach out, in a statement:

“We are reviewing this report but make no mistake: Every complaint received is thoroughly investigated and we urge any New Yorker who believes they have been the victim of housing discrimination to contact us immediately,” Azzopardi said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James

On Tuesday, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office will investigate Newsday’s allegations of housing discrimination. “I have directed the Civil Rights Bureau in my office to investigate these serious allegations and we encourage Long Island residents to report any instances of housing discrimination," James said in a statement. "We will do everything in our power under the law to protect the civil rights of New Yorkers and ensure that no one is denied housing based on their personal background."

New York State Senate Standing Committees on Housing, Consumer Protections, and Investigation and Government Operations

State Senate Democrats announced on Wednesday that the body’s Committees on Housing, Consumer Protections, and Investigation and Government Operations will hold a joint public hearing on housing discrimination on Long Island on Dec. 12. 

“There is no place in New York for discrimination and predatory practices. The Newsday investigation uncovered a disturbing and unacceptable situation that is denying New Yorkers fair housing opportunities,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in the statement. “The Senate Democratic Majority will be looking into this, and I applaud Senators Brian Kavanagh, James Skoufis, and Kevin Thomas for quickly organizing their committees to set up a hearing on this issue. This hearing will help the Senate Majority address this situation and these unfair housing practices over the coming Legislative Session.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone

The county executive announced on Wednesday his four-pronged plan to tackle the kinds of housing discrimination detailed in Newsday’s report. According to a press release, Bellone intends to continue conducting investigations into all incidents of housing discrimination and possible fair housing violations. He has also proposed strengthening the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission by authorizing the hiring of an additional investigator to examine fair housing violations. Bellone also wants to identify better guidelines for real estate agents with the help of industry stakeholders, such as the Long Island Board of Realtors. And lastly, Ballone wants to educate members of the real estate community and the public of their legal rights while searching for homes in order to better clarify what counts as discrimination.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran

Laura Curran told Newsday that she has instructed the county attorney to "to explore proactive enforcement action” to ensure that it is complying with the county’s Open Housing Law. Curran said she has also asked her administration to reach out to the Long Island Board of Realtors to evaluate and reform its current training programs. 

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.