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AG James urges people who faced housing bias to report it

State Attorney General Letitia James spoke Monday at the Long Island Association Women's Collaborative about Newsday's report on housing discrimination on Long Island, following the release of "Long Island Divided," and her plans to expand women's rights. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

New York’s top law enforcement official on Monday urged those who believe they have faced housing bias to report it, and she said her office “will get to the bottom of any pattern or practice on Long Island with the full weight of the attorney general and the full weight of the law.”

Attorney General Letitia James met Monday with elected officials and housing advocates on Long Island to discuss housing discrimination, citing Newsday’s “Long Island Divided” stories revealing evidence of widespread, unequal treatment of minority prospective home buyers by real estate agents.

The attorney general’s office is engaged “in a thorough and comprehensive investigation,” James said at a news conference following her meeting with local advocates and officials, including Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Babylon), state Sen. James Gaughran (D-Huntington) and leaders of the Long Island branches of the NAACP, Urban League and Erase Racism, a fair housing nonprofit group.

The closed-door meeting with local officials came after James spoke to more than 100 people at a gathering of the Women’s Collaborative of the Long Island Association.

Newsday’s findings of housing bias on Long Island were “disturbing,” James said to the women’s group. “I believe that an integrated community is best not only for our state but for our nation as a whole, and it’s really critically important ... that all of us have the same opportunities.”

In Newsday’s three-year “Long Island Divided” investigation, undercover “testers” carried hidden cameras and microphones. In 40% of the 86 tests by equally qualified white and minority potential home buyers, fair-housing experts consulted by Newsday found evidence of disparate treatment, such as steering minority prospective buyers to minority neighborhoods, while whites were directed to predominantly white neighborhoods. In addition, James said Monday at the LIA headquarters in Melville, real estate agents “allegedly subjected would-be buyers who were people of color to more restrictive conditions such as requiring mortgage preapproval to view properties.”

The state needs to step up its enforcement of fair-housing laws, Elaine Gross, president of the Syosset-based advocacy group Erase Racism, said after James addressed the women’s group. “We need to really take it much more seriously and I believe that that is something that she will do since she seems to be fearless,” Gross said of James. “I want her to be fearless on this issue.”

Anyone who believes they’ve experienced discrimination during a housing search should report it to the attorney general’s office, James said Monday.

Complaints can be made by calling 212-416-8250 or by email at civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.

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