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Suffolk hiring anti-bias investigators to fight housing discrimination

County officials said they will hire investigators to

County officials said they will hire investigators to check for housing bias. Here, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at a Nov. 19 announcement of the county's comprehensive plan to combat housing discrimination. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Suffolk County is seeking to hire anti-bias investigators and trainers as part of its effort to fight housing discrimination, county officials said Thursday.

The county has asked for proposals from organizations that could investigate local real estate agents and brokers, rental housing providers and lending institutions to make sure they are obeying federal, state and county anti-discrimination laws.

Officials said the probes would include paired testing by people who have equivalent qualifications but differ in a characteristic such as race. They also would make sure public and private rental buildings are accessible to people with disabilities. The county has budgeted up to $75,000 for the investigations. 

In addition, the county plans to spend up to $25,000 to hire providers of fair housing education and outreach to the public, to make sure buyers and renters are aware of their rights.

Responses are due by March 6 at 3:30 p.m.

The hirings are elements of the county’s plan to combat housing bias, announced after the publication of Newsday’s Long Island Divided investigation documenting evidence of unequal treatment of minorities by real estate agents on Long Island. 

“The results of the three-year Newsday investigation that shined a light on a dark corner of the real estate industry were disturbing and unacceptable,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement Thursday. “Almost immediately after this report was published, we took corrective action, and today we are working to fulfill our promise to create real change for our communities and ensure this unequal treatment is no longer perpetuated.”

The county’s anti-bias plan also includes hiring an additional investigator and three administrative law judges for the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, which has primary responsibility for investigating discrimination in Suffolk. The new investigator is expected to start next week, and the county is in the final stages of hiring the three judges, a county spokesman said. 

County officials also are working with state legislators to amend state laws to require more fair-housing training for real estate agents and brokers, along with the creation of a consumer Bill of Rights, county officials said.

Elaine Gross, president of the Syosset-based nonprofit ERASE Racism, said she is happy to see the county move ahead with its plan. “We here on Long Island need to show that this is important to us and we’re going to put our resources toward it and we’re going to do something about it,” she said.

At the same time, she said, she hopes to also see more support for affordable housing to promote integration, and more anti-bias efforts from the municipal, state and federal governments. 

"It’s not that the county can do everything,” she said. “We need the state engagement, obviously, and we absolutely need the federal engagement as well.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect deadline for proposals from anti-bias investigators.

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